Long before 17th century farmers in the Netherlands bred orange carrots, Mohammed bin Qasim had brought green carrots to the Indian subcontinent. Just like most discoveries and inventions, carrots had already been harvested by the Muslims, before the West stole it a thousand years later.
And so, unfortunately, the exact physiology of what happened to these carrots in the millennia between the Umayyad Dynasty and the House of Orange’s cultivation in two completely different parts of the world is not entirely known – except, of course, that they turned from green to orange.
But ever since Bin Qasim brought the vegetable to our neck of the woods, the country now known as Pakistan – incidentally one that the Arab farmer/invader laid the foundation of in 713 AD – has seen some of the greatest array of carrots seen in any single post-Westphalian nation-state.
The roots of these carrots have come from the widest gamut of soils, giving each variety a unique flavor despite similar nutritional and gastronomical utility.
Even so, what makes all these carrots unique is the fact that none of these is grown in Pakistan. They’re all imported from some of the greatest carrot exporters throughout history.
Here’s a look at some of the most noteworthy imports.
Arab carrot: this medium-sized green variety from the Arab world, was brought to the Indian subcontinent by bin Qasim, sports a green turban and has a divine core. Although the Arab carrot’s “spicy,” “overwhelmingly nutty” flavor and “juicy-crisp” texture make it suitable for eating raw, some tasters found it “noticeably more bitter” when cooked. This carrot has stood the test of time and remains the only imported carrot that Pakistan simultaneously exports.
British carrot: this pale variety had an unusual, near-cylindrical stick shape – especially for this part of the world. Never eaten raw, the British carrot has a “light crunch” and “fruity foretaste” that seems “devoid of bitterness” unless properly cooked. Once cooked, this carrot turns “fluffy,” its color deepens, and it tastes as bitter as any vegetable. The uniqueness of the British carrot lies in how it overcame the popularity of the Arab carrot, coexisted with it, only to leave the door open for its predecessors return to promise after the UK variety left the country 70 years ago.
UP carrot: Picked early in its growth cycle, this immature carrot was small and but had a firm skin that could not be peeled. The UP carrot would’ve been home grown, had the region still been a part of Pakistan. Its texture and taste bears an eerie resemblance to the Arab carrot. It has the same divine core, but without the green turban – the exterior has a likening to the British carrot. It was in fact this resemblance that made the UP carrot the most popular in the region during the 1940s, and a staple for the freedom fighters. It eventually made way for the homegrown Punjabi carrots that have since Partition been exported to Balochistan, Kashmir and even Afghanistan.
Turkish carrot: a sister variety of the Arab carrot, the Turkish carrot has changed its texture, and taste, like a chameleon over the past hundred or so years. It was its shortage in the then Ottoman Empire that increased the demand of both the Arab and UP carrots in the first half of the 20th century. The Orduvariety of the Turkish carrot was exported into the diet plan of East Pakistan till its independence. Recently, the economic boost provided by Turkish carrot has helped develop Lahore’s infrastructure.
Saudi carrot: olericulturists have struggled to differentiate between the Saudi and Arab carrots, but those who know the common side-effects of both can tell the difference. Also sporting a green turban with a divine core, the Saudi carrot has maintained its devotees, while simultaneously increasing the demand of the Arab carrot. However, it’s spread has meant minimisation of the Persian carrot with relevant scientists yet to come up with a formula for the two breeds to coexist. The Saudi carrot is also directly responsible for the spread of the most fatal disease of recent years – but it has somehow only added to its popularity.
American carrot: the dense flesh of this stubby variety is extraordinarily crunchy. With “intense, straightforward carrot flavor” and a “simultaneously bitter” aftertaste, it is the most vastly exported carrot. Interestingly, while the American carrot filled the void of the British carrot in Pakistan and is only one of the many varieties of the vegetable imported by Pakistan since its inception, it is the only variety that is acknowledged as such. All others are rarely ever addressed as carrots. Also coming in an unusual, near-cylindrical stick shape, the American carrot has been the most discussed carrot in the country. But its time seems to be coming to an end, with importers going public with their complaints in recent weeks.
Chinese carrot: the most common supermarket variety these days, it has the prototypical carrot shape. Tasters described the flavor of this carrot as “bright,” “spicy-soapy,” “herbal,” and “unlike any other carrot in the market.” When cooked, it turns a deep coral color and develops “yeasty” and “earthy” flavors – but very few know how to cook it properly. Most of its exports have been sent to Balochistan, towards the Makran coastline. The general consensus these days in the country is that the Chinese carrots taste best.