I have recently rediscovered carrots. To me, they have always been a rather bland vegetable that arrives in thin slices on the plate next to the vastly more interesting vegetables and meat dish. A few weeks ago though, feeling lazy I grabbed a prepack of veggies and noticed that there were some whole baby carrots inside the bag and despite not really expecting anything great, bunged them in the steamer anyway.

Carrots 3A few minutes later – and a revelation!

Where did that flavour come from, for it certainly had never been there before. And the texture – oh, gods – there was something to savour in every bite!

It had to be because these were baby carrots – for the big carrots of my youth could never have been like this. So I grabbed some normal sized carrots and chopped them into sizeable chunks and away with the steamer. And again – a wonder of flavours and textures hit my mouth.

This was incredible.

It is a shame that my prejudices of this vegetable were based on school cooking methods, which more often revolved around slicing the carrot into slices so thin they looked more like biological samples – then boiling it to the point where all the nutrition and flvour have been sucked out of the flesh and into the boiling water. I would guess that the water the cooks poured down the drain after service probably contained more nutrition – and flavours than what they ever put on our plates.

So – if your experience of carrots is of a rather uninteresting and bland vegetable – try them again but use a steamer and only lightly cook them.

You’ll be in for a surprise.

Carrots 1Anyhow – this gives me a chance to discuss one of the great food myths of all time.

I am sure you have heard that carrots help you see in the dark – and indeed, it is possible that some aspects of the vitamins etc do indeed help a bit with eyesight over the long term, but that is only a fraction of the story.

It all goes back to World War 2 – and the carrot story was a mixture of boosting fighter pilot morale and concealing a recent invention by the British.

One of the RAF’s top fighter pilots, Group Captain John Cunningham – who had the nickname of Cat’s Eyes had a fondness for carrots and the RAF started serving carrots to all its pilots who were on a night-time raid over the mainland and sold them the idea that carrots would help boost their nighttime vision. The move was pure propaganda as a meal of carrots most certainly wouldn’t deliver any sort of boost to the eyesight, but it made the fighter pilots think they would have an edge over their enemies.

And doubtless the placebo effect probably did have some benefit in helping them focus a bit better in the dark over German cities, but it is doubtful that it was significant.

So the whole story about carrots helping you see better in the dark is in fact a myth designed to boost wartime moral in the UK.

Carrots 2But there is another twist to the story.

During the later phases of the war, the British perfected the radar system as a military tool – but needed to keep the development a secret from the Germans. The problem is that you cannot have the military suddenly improve its accuracy and success rate in war without some sort of reason to explain it. The Axis forces would have started looking into why the Allies were suddenly more accurate and expended a lot of effort in spies to discover the secret – and they would eventually have found out about the radar system.

To prevent this – the government promoted the carrot myth outside the RAF so that the general public heard that the RAF pilots uncanny accuracy was down to eating carrots before each flight. Naturally, the story made its way back to Germany, where it was believed and the accuracy of the RAF was dismissed as a result of a good diet and no further research into their accurate bombing raids was carried out.

Thanks to the huge success of this dual campaign of wartime moral and disinformation – the myth of the carrot helping night time vision has become so ingrained in popular culture that even today people will forcefully expound upon the virtues of the carrot in this regard. After all, everyone knows the carrot helps you see in the dark – don’t they?

Well, sorry – but it isn’t true.

Group Captain John Cunningham died in July 2002 – Obituary

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