Uzbek Golden: Sturdy Carrot of Central Asia

In the Uzbek language, the Uzbek Golden carrot is called “Mshak” — or “muscle carrot.” And no wonder! This burly root powers through extreme conditions like poor soil, heat stress and cold temperatures yet somehow maintains a very carroty flavor balanced by sweetness — especially when harvested late in the fall.

Carrots evolved in two varietal forms. Daucus carota subspecies atrorubens is believed to have been domesticated in Afghanistan in the 10th century. Characterized by hairy foliage and roots ranging in color from purple/black to yellow, they’re sometimes referred to as “anthocyanin” carrots. They spread via the Silk Road trade routes to the Mediterranean and western Europe between the 11th and 14th centuries. Kublai Khan brought carrots to China around 1300 AD, and they spread to India and Japan between the 14th and 17th centuries. 

Daucus carota subspecies sativus, with its yellow or white roots and deep green, serrated foliage, may have originated in Turkey, and spread west into Europe. And while the Dutch are often credited with creating the orange carrot in the 16th century, there’s compelling evidence that they had been around for at least a thousand years before that. They developed from yellow carrots such as the Uzbek Golden.

The exquisitely illustrated version of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica was created for Byzantine princess Anicia Juliana in the early 6th century.

The first reference to an orange carrot came in 512 A.D. in the Juliana Anicia Codex, an illustrated version of ancient Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, a five-volume treatise describing the medicinal properties of more than 600 plants. 

Central Asia was the crossroads for these two carrot types, where they happily crossed with each other. The Uzbek Golden is classified as a sativus form, but it carries the genes of both varieties. 

In 2016, researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California-Davis released the complete sequence of the carrot genome. With 32,000 genes, it’s even more complicated than that of humans, enabling carrots to thrive in a wildly diverse range of growing conditions. Among other findings, they identified the gene that produces carotenoids, a critical source of Vitamin A and the pigment responsible for the bright orange or red color of some vegetables and fruits.

With an annual production of more than two million Metric tons, Uzbekistan is the second-largest carrot producer in the world after China. Orange-colored carrots are preferred in Western Europe and in North America; yellow, red and purple carrots are favorites in Asia. 

Due to its strength and adaptability, the Uzbek Golden is grown on thousands of acres in Uzbekistan and much of the crop is exported to Russia and to China.

Carrots such as the Uzbek Golden are a main ingredient in plov, a pilaf that also includes onions, spices, rice and meat, and traditionally cooked in an iron pot over an open fire.

Uzbek Golden carrots are also frequently pickled with garlic and chives, too.

We think Central Asian carrots such as the Uzbek Golden deserve to be better known and grown by gardeners and farmers in the Americas. They are widely adaptable and maintain a high quality even under stressful growing conditions. This variety produced sweet roots in the hot summer months during our Missouri greenhouse trials, but it is equally vigorous and tasty when grown in cool weather. 

If you struggle to grow carrots, this is definitely one to try!

Find Uzbek Golden carrot seeds here.