Baby Carrots
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There are a number of types of Baby Carrots. The first type is what Smart Kitchen would call “true” Baby Carrots. These are actually full grown specimens of fast-maturing breeds of carrots that have been bred to have a smaller, tender, taproot. True Baby Carrots are cultivated as specialty produce and do well in shallow root zones and rocky soil. Most have an elongated shape, but some, called Radish-Style Carrots, are rounder and shaped more like a Radish.

The second type of baby carrot, is any type of traditional Carrot that is harvested early. These early harvest carrots are especially tender. 

Finally, there are machine-made baby Carrots, also called “cut baby carrots” or “baby cuts” by the industry. Historically, grocery customers only bought iconic “Bugs Bunny” style orange carrots. Consequently, super market produce buyers only accepted perfect carroty-looking carrots from carrot farmers.

Unfortunately, nature is not really as clean and neat as it may appear from the curated and manicured produce aisles of America. Every harvest yields some gnarly carrot misfits which are “culled” or disposed of for, at best, juicing or processed foods, or more typically as animal slop (feed).  In some fields, as many as, 70% of the harvested Carrots were culls.

In the mid 80’s, co-incident with a demand for delicate Baby Carrots in fine dining establishments, a Newhall, California farmer named Mike Yurosek had an idea about how to salvage some of the 400 tons of misfit Carrots that were sent down the cull chutes of his packing plant in Bakersfield, Ca. each day. Mike peeled some of his gnarly Carrots, cut them into 2 inch long pieces, packed them in bags and approached some of his grocery buyers with his cut Baby Carrots. They were a hit and manufactured Baby Carrots entered the marketplace. The left over carrot shavings go towards animal feed, pulping (for baby food or Soups) or even juicing to make Carrot Juice.

Season

Under the right conditions, Carrots take about 2-4 months to grow, which gardeners and farmers have learned to manipulate to keep the Carrots coming throughout the year. In the strictest, most natural sense, Carrots are known as a Fall Vegetable, though they actually have two recognized Seasons. In addition to the fall they are also a late Spring crop. The excess from one season’s crop goes into cold storage to tide all of us over until the next fresh crop of Carrots is available.

True Baby Carrots varieties can be grown all year using the techniques mentioned above. Early Harvest Baby Carrots are available early in a particular season.  Machine-made Baby Carrots can be cut from whatever full sized carrots are available.

Availability

Baby Carrots, of all three types, are available all year long through a combination of sourcing from different regions of the country and preservation of carrots in cold storage. Carrots are a Root Vegetable and hold very well in cold storage.

Cultivation

Baby Carrots grow from seeds and should be planted in the early spring for the late Spring harvest. They are not the fastest growers and take an average of 60 to 75 days to reach full maturity. True Baby Carrots and some small round types (for example Orbit and Thumbelina or Thumbeline) require a little less time, between 50 and 60 days to grow.

Carrots are biennial plants.  This means if you leave them in the ground the first year, they will produce flowers and then seeds the second year.

If you wish to grow Baby Carrots yourself, most types do well in sandy soil and sprout in 10 to 12 days after being sown, preferably about 3/4 of an inch (2 cm) deep. Baby Carrots grow best in full sun but can tolerate some shade. To keep from growing oddly shaped Baby Carrots, avoid tight, rocky soil that makes the taproot flex and curve as it grows. If your soil is rocky or clay-like, you're better off growing small round varieties or true Baby Carrots. Round baby carrots don’t need to reach as deep into the soil with their taproots. These smaller types of Baby Carrots also can be grown successfully in pots.

Baby Carrots are also a useful companion plant. They are especially helpful planted near tomatoes, onions, beans and lettuces.

Production

Except where the climate is too hot, Baby Carrots are grown all over the world. China (45%), Russia (4%) and the United States (3.6%) are the leading commercial producers of this economically significant agricultural product. All told, we earthlings grow about 37 tons of carrots a year.

Domestically, California produces about 87% of all our U.S. commercially grown Carrots. Grimmways Farms is the largest individual Carrot producer and Bolthouse Farms is the second largest. Both are located in California where the ideal climate allows them to plant and harvest two crops a year. In fact, the city of Holtville, Ca claims that it is the “Carrot Capital of the World” with an Annual Carrot Festival in February and everything (the festival link goes offsite to the Holtville Chamber of Commerce).

Most Carrots are mechanically harvested by a Carrot Harvester, a machine that harvests anywhere from 1-6 rows of field Carrots at a time by cutting the roots from below and picking up the whole plant by the leaves by grasping the leaves. The carrots are transferred to storage containers for delivery to packing facilities where they are cleaned, washed, graded and packed ready for immediate delivery to your supermarket. They are handled as carefully as possible during the harvesting, washing and packing process to avoid damaging the roots.

The fresh market, Carrots sold as fresh produce, dominates global carrot production. Varieties in this segment are sweet and crisp, rounded at the tips and bottoms with inconspicuous cores.  Uniformity, flavor, shape, color and smoothness are the traits that matter in the fresh market. About 76% of the Carrots grown in the U.S. are sold into the fresh carrot market. Within the fresh market, there is also a segment known as the Bunching market (carrots sold in bunches) that require Carrots to have a good taste and to fit the mold in terms of color, form, length, shape, and foliage (the Carrot Greens).

About 24% of our total domestic production becomes some sort of processed Carrot. In growing for the processed market, color, yield and long lasting flavor are the important criteria. Processed Carrots may  become Frozen Carrots or Canned Carrots. Some processed Carrots become Carrot Juice.

Varieties

Baby Carrot varieties include Orbit Carrots, Babette Carrots, Amsterdam Forcing Carrots, Paris Market Carrots, Tiana Carrots, Early French Frame Carrots, Early Nantes Carrots, Early Short Horn Carrots, Champion Scarlet Horn Carrots, Thumbeline Carrots, Thumbelina Carrots (a Radish-Style Carrot), Round Carrots (a Radish-Style Carrot) and Romeo Carrot (a Radish- Style carrot). Oxheart CarrotsBaby Black Knight Carrots, Baby Bunched Carrots, Baby Micro Mix Carrots, Baby Mixed Carrots, Baby Red Bunched Carrots, Baby White Bunched Carrots, and Baby Yellow Bunched Carrots.

Baby Micro Carrots are tiny and tasty sub-category that are similar to Baby Carrots. They are just smaller.

Purchasing

Look for Baby Carrots with bright, vibrant colors and few “hairs” growing out of the taproot. If there are hairs, that is a sign of aging, toughening, carrots. This purchasing advice applies to all colors and to all three types of Baby Carrots.

Any Carrot Greens, the clipped top where the greens were attached, should be fresh green. If the greens are turning brown or black that is a bad sign. True Baby Carrots, small, young ones, are likely to be sweeter than machine-made ones cut down from larger Carrots. Different type and varieties of Baby Carrots will have different flavor profiles, textures, colors, sizes, etc.

White Baby Carrots have no pigments but tend to be the most aromatic.

Storage

Baby Carrots are best stored wrapped in a plastic bag or in your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer / crisper drawer. Using the vegetable drawer / crisper drawer also has the added benefit of keeping your Carrots away from the Ethylene Gas given off by Fruit which can make Carrots taste bitter. In certain circumstances Carrots can also absorb the odors from Apples and Pears.

They will last longer if they are kept fairly dry. Refrigerated early harvest Baby Carrots have a shelf life of approximately 2 weeks. True Baby Carrots and machine-made Baby Carrots that are young will have about the same 2 weeks. Mature Carrots will last up to a month refrigerated.

Exposure to sunlight, high temperatures or physical damage can cause the Carrot roots to generate alcohol, as well as a bitter defensive chemical, which can add a solvent-like aroma to your dishes.

Removing the Carrot tops before storage increases their shelf life because the greens, as long as they are attached to the Carrot, continue to pull moisture and nutrients out of the taproot.

Culinary Uses

The short story on the Culinary Uses of Baby Carrots is that they are a Root Vegetable, with a very interesting and useful footnote: they have the additional desirable trait of being a subtle Aromatic (see more below).

On Smart Kitchen’s Home Plate™ Baby Carrots are Raw, Tender, Thin, Moist and Lean. That is, Carrots, unlike most Root Vegetables, can be eaten Raw and do not need to be cooked to be consumed.

Typically, fresh raw Carrots have a crisp texture but can be a little tough, especially the older, bigger ones. Early Harvest Baby Carrots and True Baby Carrots tend to be tender and thinner. Machine-made Baby Carrots will be thin but could be tough, depending on the toughness of the Carrot that they were originally cut down from. Because of their size, Baby Carrots are thinner than standard carrots. They can be thinned even further with Slicing, Dicing, Grating, etc.

Luckily, all types of Baby Carrots can be tenderized by cooking for a better chew. Fresh Carrots can handle a lot of cooking time and a lot of cooking heat. Cooking them also weakens their cell walls, freeing their natural sugars and making Carrots taste sweeter. All Baby Carrots, except for machine-made, are sweeter than their full-sized counterparts.

With 87% water content, Baby Carrots are Moist. They are also Lean, with a very low fat content (less than 1%). In the Smart Kitchen Home Plate™ shorthand, Baby Carrots would be (R,T2,T3,M,L).

Back to our opening claim, that Baby Carrots are basically a fragrant root vegetable, think of anyway that you can cook Potatoes and, technically, that method will also almost always work for Carrots. While they may get the job done, every potato cooking technique may not always be the best choice, because Baby Carrots contain less Starch and are notably sweeter than Potatoes. Baby Carrots are at least 5% Sugar, comprised of a mixture of Glucose, Sucrose and Fructose.

Because they contain unique fragrance molecules (mostly due to terpenes) with hints of pine, wood, oil, citrus and turpentine, Baby Carrots have a mild, almost violet-like, bouquet that comes out when the fragmented carotene is heated. This minor Aromatic quality makes Carrots a great way to add layered flavoring to Stocks, Stews, Soups and other preparations. Think about how chefs use a Mirepoix to create a foundation of tastes and you will get the idea. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the color pigments in Orange Carrots and Yellow Carrots are oil-soluble, meaning it takes Fat or Oil to release them and make them lose their “Orangey-ness” and bleed over into other ingredients. The good news is that their lively orange color holds up well with Moist Heat Methods.

Purple, anthocyanin carrots, on the other hand, are colored by water-soluble pigments. This means that they will easily lose their color and bleed into other ingredients in your dish if Moist Heat Methods (Stewing, Boiling, Braising, etc.) are used to cook Purple Baby Carrots. Shorter cook times yield less bleeding and better purple color.

In French Cuisine, dishes that are described as "à la Crécy," are dishes that are cooked with, or garnished with, Carrots. There are scores of good ways to prepare and use Baby Carrots. If you are at a loss as to how to get started Peeling Carrots, Slicing them and then Sautéing the Carrot slices along with a dab of Whole Butter, Salt and Pepper, is a simple way to jump right in.

As you get more comfortable with the Carrot, Glazing Baby Carrots may be a good technique to try. Glazed Carrots and Caramelized Balsamic Carrots are two recipes on Smart Kitchen that call for regular Carrots, but which also work well with Baby Carrots. Both dishes are often garnished with Chopped Parsley for color contrast. Baby Carrots are frequently used in Salads, Side Dishes and as Garnishes.

Baby Carrot Tops, aka Carrot Greens are also edible as a leaf vegetable.

Portion Size

Allow 2-3 oz of Baby Carrots per person.

Pairings

AllspiceAlmondsAniseBaconBasilBay LeafBeef, Brandy, Salted ButterUnsalted ButterYogurtCeleryChervilTarragon, Chile Peppers, Dried Chile Peppers, Red Chile Peppers, Jalapeno, ChivesCilantroCinnamonCloves, Cod, Coriander, Crayfish, CreamHeavy CreamCrème FraicheCumin, Curry, Curry Leaves, DillFennel, Fennel Seeds, Fish, GarlicGingerHazelnutsHoney, Lamb, LeeksLemons, Lemon Juice, Lemon Zest, Limes, Lime Juice, Lime Zest, Lovage, Mace, Maple Syrup, Agave, Syrup, Mint, Spearmint, Peppermint, MirepoixMustardMustard Seeds, Black Mustard Seeds, Nutmeg, Oils,Peanut OilMustard OilSesame OilGrapeseed OilVegetable OilOlive OilOnionsScallionsYellow OnionsRed OnionsWhite OnionsShallots, Oranges, Orange Juice, Orange Zest, ParsleyParsnips, Peas, PecansPepperBlack PepperWhite Pepper,Pink PepperPistachiosPotatoes, Raisins, Black Raisins, White Raisins, ChickenBeefPoultryRoasted MeatsRosemary, Rum, SageSaltKosher SaltStocksWhite Chicken StockBrown Chicken StockBeef StockVeal StockSugarBrown SugarRaw SugarGranulated Sugar, Tamarind, Thyme, Turnips, Veal, Vegetables, Root VegetablesGreensVinaigrettesWalnuts, White Wine, Red Wine

Nutritional Value USDA
CARROTS,BABY,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 35
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
3%
Sodium 78mg
5%
Potassium 237mg
2%
Total Carbohydrate 8g
8%
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 4g
Protein 0g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Carrots are one of the healthiest foods you can eat.  It begins with their typically bright orange color caused by their high concentration of beta-carotene (also named from the original Latin word “carōta”), which the body converts to Vitamin A. They also contain lesser amounts of alpha-carotene (which has been shown to help inhibit conditions that can lead to tumor growth), upsilon-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Carrots are rich in dietary fiber (mostly cellulose, with smaller proportions of hemicellulose, lignin and starch), antioxidants and minerals. In addition, a serving of Carrots provides 13% of the USRDA for Vitamin K and 11% for Vitamin B6. Carrots are about 5% Sugar. The sugars contained in Carrots include Sucrose, Glucose and Fructose.

In the plant kingdom, the stronger the pigment, the more nutrients and phytochemicals the plant is likely to contain.  Carrot’s many phytochemicals help slow the aging process and fight against many diseases including cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and urinary tract infections.

Contrary to popular wisdom, and the opinion of Moms everywhere, eating scads of Carrots does not allow you see perfectly in the dark.  That being said, adequate amounts of Vitamin A are linked to maintaining good vision, and inadequate amounts can lead to poor vision, any time of day.

Massive over consumption of carrots can cause carotenosis, a benign condition in which the skin turns orange.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes