The Sweet History of Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

The combination of spiced cake and cream cheese frosting makes carrot cake an irresistible dessert that’s graced our plates for nearly two centuries. Though the modern iteration of the cake now includes a heft of sugar, early versions actually relied on the natural sweetness of the carrots to bolster the cake’s flavor.

The exact birthdate of carrot cake is difficult to nail down, but many historians believe it began being served in the Middle Ages, when sugar was intolerably expensive and difficult to come by. Along with the carrot, it was not uncommon for home cooks to use parsnips, zucchinis, and other naturally sweet vegetables in their desserts. What was likely a much milder dessert was served then as more of a carrot pudding. Centuries later, the dessert’s popularity grew after it appeared in a French cookbook published in the early 1800s. 

During World War II, the carrot and its cake became ever popular in Britain as government leaders enforced food rationing and encouraged residents to grow healthy produce like carrots. And they did grow lots of the orange root vegetable. Some reports indicate that during the Blitzkrieg, the British Ministry insisted to the public that the success of British gunners was linked to their consumption of carrots. Citizens of England began putting carrots in every dish they could dream up, including cake.

In the mid-1900s, the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Co. advertised a recipe for carrot cake using its cream cheese as a topping. By the 1970s, Americans considered the cake a “health food” and began consuming it en masse. Though we now understand the cake as a bona fide indulgence rather than part of a balanced diet, carrot cake continues to be devoured by all ages throughout multiple countries.