The carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, black, red, white, and yellow cultivars exist. Carrots are a domesticated form of the wild carrot, Daucus carota, native to Europe and southwestern Asia. The plant probably originated in Persia and originally cultivated for its leaves and seeds. The most commonly eaten part of the plant is the taproot, although the greens are sometimes eaten as well. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged, more palatable, less woody-textured taproot.
The carrot is a biennial plant in the umbellifer family Apiaceae. At first, it grows a rosette of leaves while building up the enlarged taproot. Fast-growing cultivars mature within three months (90 days) of sowing the seed, while slower-maturing cultivars are harvested four months later (120 days). The roots contain high quantities of alpha- and beta-carotene, and are a good source of vitamin K and vitamin B6, but the belief that eating carrots improves night vision is a myth put forward by the British in World War II to mislead the enemy about their military capabilities.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that world production of carrots and turnips (these plants are combined by the FAO) for the calendar year 2013 was 37.2 million tonnes; almost half (~45%) were grown in China. Carrots are widely used in many cuisines, especially in the preparation of salads, and carrot salads are a tradition in many regional cuisines.
The word is first recorded in English circa 1530 and was borrowed from Middle French carotte, itself from Late Latin carōta, from Greek καρωτόνor karōton, originally from the Indo-European root *ker- (horn), due to its horn-like shape. In Old English, carrots (typically white at the time) were not clearly distinguished from parsnips: the two were collectively called moru or more (from Proto-Indo-European *mork- “edible root”, cf. German Möhre).
Various languages still use the same word for “carrot” as they do for “root”; e.g. Dutch wortel.
Molecular and genetic studies, along with written history, support the idea that the cultivated/domesticated carrot has a single origin in Central Asia. The wild ancestors of the carrot are likely to have originated in Persia (regions of which are now Iran and Afghanistan), which remains the centre of diversity for Daucus carota, the wild carrot. A naturally occurring subspecies of the wild carrot was presumably bred selectively over the centuries to reduce bitterness, increase sweetness and minimise the woody core; this process produced the familiar garden vegetable.