Do Carrots Help You See in the Dark?
Carrots are most often associated with three things: carrot cake, Bugs Bunny, and the ability to see in the dark. So, where did that last one come from and is there any truth to it?
The short love affair between marketing and carrots began in 1941 with the British government’s ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. Designed by Disney, it featured ‘Dr. Carrot’ and aimed to encourage people to eat more veg in an effort to support the war effort. Perhaps coincidentally, over the pond Bugs Bunny was born around the same time.
Carrots weren’t rationed, so — according to Smithsonian Magazine (an apparent authority on the history of carrots) — The Ministry of Food provided a plethora of inspiration in the kitchen, including carrot cakes, puddings, marmalades, fudge and flan. Even “Carrolade” was a thing. This campaign was so successful that by 1942 Britain was swimming in carrots: we had a 10,000-ton surplus.
It is thought that the infamous line about carrots — that they help us see in the dark — dates back to the propaganda that was designed to mop up the surplus. But it also had another purpose. Britain had developed radars to allow us to intercept night raids and, in an attempt to keep this a secret, the Air Ministry issued a press release announcing that their pilots were eating lots of carrots to boost their night vision. It seems that everyone, German and British alike, bought it.
Interestingly, though, carrots may actually play a role in helping us see more clearly at night.
Do carrots help you see in the dark?
Yes they can play a role in your ability to see in darkness. Carrots contain Vitamin A (AKA retinol) in the form of beta carotene, which is good for eye health in general. However, more than this, a Vitamin A deficiency can result in a condition called nictalopia (or night blindness). Carrots — or more specifically the Vitamin A that is found in carrots — is known to reverse this. But, sadly, there is no evidence to say that carrots will give you superhuman night vision.
9 fun facts about carrots that you didn’t know you needed
- The word carrot comes from the Proto-Indo-European word ker, meaning “horn”.
- The ancients believed carrots prevented poisoning. They also believed them to be an aphrodisiac.
- Carrots are well represented in popular culture, on postage stamps and in fine art.
- Carrots aren’t all actually orange. Naturally they grow in a range of colours, including purple, yellow and white. The orange colour is due to a carotenoid, beta-carotene, that orange carrots contain.
- The orange carrots we are used to are commonplace (probably) due to William of Orange. William the Silent (later known as William of Orange) was a Dutch ruler who lived in the 1500’s and it just so happens that the Dutch were prolific carrot farmers. However, it is thought that orange ones only monopolised the market in the 17th century, in homage to William of Orange who led Holland to independence from Spanish Rule.
- As a Pantone shade, “carrot” is: PANTONE 16-1361 TPX. You’re welcome.
- The pigments responsible for purple carrots are called anthocyanins and they’re powerful antioxidants.
- As well as Vitamin A, carrots are a good source of fibre, vitamin C and potassium, as well as vitamin B6, folate, and several minerals including calcium and magnesium. They are naturally sweet in comparison to most other veggies and are actually more nutritious once cooked.
- Eating too many carrots may result in a natural tangoing; three large carrots a day is likely to cause ‘carotonemia’, or an orange tint to one’s skin. However, be careful not to meet the fate of Basil Brown who downed 10 gallons of carrot juice in 10 days, resulting in an overdose of Vitamin A. His skin turned bright yellow and he died of liver damage.
- For all your other carrot needs, visit the online carrot museum. It’s worth the trip.
Our favourite ways to eat carrots
Raw: On their own, as a vehicle for delicious dips or a colourful addition to a salad, raw carrots are delicious.
Juiced: Add some carrots to a smoothie or juice them along with apple and ginger for a refreshing and nutritious juice.
Steamed: A great accompaniment to a Sunday roast or a pie; cook until tender, not soft.
Roasted: Whole and foil-wrapped, or chopped and added to a tray of mixed veg, carrots caramelize beautifully in the oven.
Stir-fried: Sliced and tossed into a stir fry, carrots add a lovely crunch and sweetness and work really well with soy sauce.
By Munjeeta Sohal
MJ is a freelance writer, avid reader and habitual ruminator (and user of fancy words). She couldn’t live without books and her cats. On her days off, you can find her cycling up and down the Lea Valley, searching for a great vegan recipe to cook, or, well, reading her book with her cats.