The History Of Carrot Cake Goes Back Way Longer Than You Might Expect

Founding father George Washington allegedly served guests cake at his parties, and not just any type of cake, but carrot cake (per Taste). This dessert cake uses the orange root vegetable as the star and centerpiece, which may lead some to think that carrot cake is healthier than other types of cakes. However, in spite of the shredded bits of carrot in the batter, the cake is usually topped with a decadent and heavy cream cheese icing, which may not make it healthier than other sugary cakes (per CakeRe) – though that hasn't been a barrier to its popularity today.

But before the carrot cake evolved in human history, carrots were thought to be the same as parsnips and used for medicinal purposes. It was only around the 17th century that the modern orange-rooted carrot was cultivated in the Netherlands, as reported by Online Etymology Dictionary. According to Culture Trip, carrots were used as sweeteners in desserts as early as the 10th century by Arabic chefs (possibly an early iteration of the gajar no halvo), which set the precedent for carrots to be used in other sweets like cakes.

British carrot cake surged in popularity during WWII

In 1827, carrot cake appeared for the first time in a French cookbook published in Britain, as reported by National Today, but there was a recipe for carrot pudding pie on record from "The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy" as early as 1747, per The Food of England Project. Although carrots were briefly mentioned as a sweetener in those books, they didn't take center stage until the 1940s. During World War II, England was forced to ration sweeteners, cutting off the sugar supply to Brits with a sweet tooth, according to Culture Trip

As a substitute, the government promoted the usage of carrots to provide the sweet factor in cakes and puddings. The original recipe for Dr. Carrot's Healthy Cake, published in the British Ministry of Food's "War Cookery Leaflet No.4," is still available, but astute readers will note that there is no cream cheese involved.

In fact, carrot cake wasn't paired with decadent cream cheese icing until the 1960s. If you're not a fan of the now classic pairing, you can swap it out for a classic vanilla buttercream frosting.