Carrots are one of the Major Root Vegetables Used in the Kitchen.
Carrot
Resources > Food > Vegetables > Carrots > Carrot

Are you a Smart Kitchen™ Chef?

Try it FREE or take a TOUR to explore Smart Kitchen!
+ -

 

The modern domestic Carrot (Daucus carōta, sativus) is the taproot of the Carrot plant which makes them, by definition, a root vegetable. Carrots are the second most popular vegetable in the world running just a bit behind potatoes.

Carrots, which were purple in the wild, are believed to have been domesticated in 5000 BC. They were first mentioned in print in the 1st century. The name “carrot” has been used since late Roman times when the Root Vegetable was called “carōta” in Latin, derived from an Indo-European root “ker” meaning “horn,” describing the taproot’s horn-like shape. Think about an early cultivated purple Carrot and the horn imagery shines through much better.

Though its name takes note of the taproot, early chefs thought of Carrots as Greens and only prepared the Carrot’s aromatic leaves and seeds. The root (and seeds) were medicinal and used in herbal remedies and to dye clothing (remember they were purple).

The cultivated modern Carrot is a hybrid that originated from Wild Carrot (Daucus carōta, Carōta, aka Queen Anne’s Lace).  Hybridization of Wild Carrots created larger (and more palatable) taproots which evolved into Eastern Carrots, also called Asian Carrots, which are one of the two major types of modern Carrots produced today.

Nowadays Eastern/Asian Carrots are grown mostly in Russia, Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Eastern/Asian Carrots are either reddish purple/maroon or yellow, and their roots tend to branch, producing a number of large interconnected taproots for each.

Lately Eastern/Asian Carrots have been gaining popularity in America and Western Europe, especially the purple variety, which are sweeter than orange Carrots and possibly have more health benefits than their orange cousins. But their dark maroon/purple coloration can also be a hard sell in the West.  Some Westerners simply prefer their Carrot flavor in the comfortable orange color.

The familiar modern orange Carrot is called the Western Carrot (or Carotene Carrot). It was likely developed from a mutant or hybrid of a yellow colored Eastern Carrot. The breeding and cross-breeding history is unclear and the record keeping was not great at the time, but the first records in Europe indicate that purple and yellow Carrots arrived sometime in the 8th to 11th century and that orange Carrots appeared much later, in the 15th and 16th centuries.

It is thought that our modern orange Carrots are descendants of two orange-colored Carrots developed in The Netherlands in the 17th century, the “Horn” Carrot, named for the Dutch town of Hoorn near where it was developed, and the “Long Orange” Carrot.  And though it makes a nice story, there is no proof that orange Carrots were created to honor the Dutch hero William of Orange, who led the Netherlands in revolt against Phillip II of Spain in the late 1500s, beginning the Eighty Years’ War for Dutch independence. There is also a school of thought that believes that orange Carrots were first developed ages earlier in Turkey and Persia.

 So although the Eastern Carrot and Western Carrot are related, they also have some notable differences, the most important of which is the presence (or absence) of Beta-Carotene. That’s right, even though Eastern Carrots are “carrots” they have no orange color and therefore contain no Beta-Carotene. 

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.

Availability

Carrots 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

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 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.  They grow best in full sun but can tolerate some shade.  To keep from growing oddly shaped Carrots, avoid tight, rocky soil that makes the taproot flex and curve as it grows.  Carrots are also a useful companion plant. They are especially helpful planted near Tomatoes, Alliums (Leeks, Shallots and Onions), Beans and Lettuces, and are helped to produce more themselves if grown alongside Alliums, Beans, Rosemary and Sage.

If your soil is rocky or clay-like, you are better off growing small round varieties or true Baby Carrots, which don’t need to reach as deep into the soil with their taproots.  These smaller types of Carrots also can be grown successfully in pots.

Carrot root flies threaten growing Carrots, but cultivating Carrots with fragrant (pungent) Onions, Leeks and/or Chives can help repel the pest. Carrots are known to do well around Caraway, Coriander, Chamomile and Marigold. Flowering Carrot plants are attractive to wasps that may prey on other veggie-chomping garden bugs.

Production

Except where the climate is too hot, 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

Developing new Carrot hybrids appears to have been a favorite occupation of many horticulturists and plant geneticists in the 1600s, and it may still be today.  As a result, there are a zillion varieties of Carrots.  In fact, there is a variety of Carrot for every letter of the alphabet.  Below is a quick summary of the main types you are likely to encounter, and we have also created separate entries with more details about these and others.

Keep in mind that many commercial varieties of Carrots, like the Imperator Carrot, were bred not for flavor but their ability to withstand shipping conditions, disease and machine harvesting methods.  By exploring other varieties, you may find some with more flavor and/or interesting colorings, which will give your cooking more Flair, the fourth of Smart Kitchen’s 4 Levers of Cooking.™

As noted above, there are two main types of Carrots: Eastern Carrots and Western Carrots. Baby Carrots are another sub-category of Carrots. The links will go to Resource Pages on each one where you can find more details. In this section on Carrot varieties we will limit ourselves to just listing some types of Western Carrots that appear in domestic stores and at farmer’s markets. 

Some of the Western Carrots that you may come across include: Jumbo Carrot, Red Jumbo Carrot, Nantes Carrot, Imperator Carrot, Danvers Carrot, Chantenay Carrot, Purple Western Carrot, Red Carrot, White Carrot, Flakkee Carrot, Kuroda Carrot, Horn Carrot, Early Half-Long Horn Carrot, Late Half-Long Carrot, Long Orange Carrot, Yellow Carrot, Yellow Belgian Carrot, Berlicum Carrot, Altringham Carrot, Brasilia Carrot, Imperial Long Scarlet Carrot, etc.

Purchasing

Look for 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 both Eastern Carrots and Western 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. Small, young Carrots are likely to be sweeter than larger ones. Different varieties of Carrots have different flavor profiles, textures, colors, sizes, etc.

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

Storage

Carrots are best stored wrapped in a plastic bag or in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. They will last longer if they are kept fairly dry.  Refrigerated young Carrots have a shelf life of approximately 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. 

Use the vegetable drawer / crisper drawer for Carrots to keep them away from Fruit. Exposure to the ethylene gas given off by Fruit makes Carrots taste bitter. Carrots can also absorb the odors from Apples and Pears.

Culinary Uses

The short story on the Culinary Uses of 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™ Carrots are Raw, Tough, Thick, Moist and Lean. That is, Carrots, unlike most Root Vegetables, can be eaten Raw and do not need to be cooked to be consumed.

Fresh raw Carrots have a crisp texture but can be a little tough, especially the older, bigger ones. Luckily, they 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.

They are thick (at least usually at the root end) and can be thinned with Slicing, Dicing, Grating, etc. With 87% water content, Carrots are Moist. They are also Lean, with a very low fat content (less than 1%). In the Smart Kitchen Home Plate™ shorthand, Carrots would be (R,T2,T4,M,L).

Back to our opening claim, that 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 Carrots contain less Starch. They are also notably sweeter than Potatoes, up to 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, 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 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 Carrots. Shorter cook times yield less bleeding and better purple color.

There are scores of good ways to prepare and use 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 Carrots may be a good technique to try. Glazed Carrots and Caramelized Balsamic Carrots are two simple tasty ways to try Glazing Carrots for a Side Dish. Both are often garnished with Chopped Parsley for color contrast.

Carrots, of all types, are used in cuisines worldwide in Salads, Soups, Stocks and Stews, in Sauces and as a Vegetable Side Dish. Shredded and sweetened they are used in cakes in breads. For example, Grated Carrots are popular in Carrot Cake, as well as Carrot Pudding, an old English dish thought to have originated in the early 19th century.   Carrot Tops, aka Carrot Greens are also edible as a leaf vegetable. In French Cuisine, a dish called "à la Crécy" refers to a dish made with Carrots. 

In Asia, shredded and sweetened Carrots are use in Rice dishes. In India, they cook down Carrots to make a kind of vegetable fudge.

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 oz of Carrot per person.

Pairings

Allspice, Almonds, Anise, Bacon, Basil, Bay Leaf, Beef, Brandy, Salted Butter, Unsalted Butter, Yogurt, Celery, Chervil, Tarragon, Chile Peppers, Dried Chile Peppers, Red Chile Peppers, Jalapeno, Chives, Cilantro, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cod, Coriander, Crayfish, Cream, Heavy Cream, Crème Fraiche, Cumin, Curry, Curry Leaves, Dill, Fennel, Fennel Seeds, Fish, Garlic, Ginger, Hazelnuts, Honey, Lamb, Leeks, Lemons, Lemon Juice, Lemon Zest, Limes, Lime Juice, Lime Zest, Lovage, Mace, Maple Syrup, Agave, Syrup, Mint, Spearmint, Peppermint, Mirepoix, Mustard, Mustard Seeds, Black Mustard Seeds, Nutmeg, Oils, Peanut Oil, Mustard Oil, Sesame Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Vegetable Oil, Olive Oil, Onions, Scallions, Yellow Onions, Red Onions, White Onions, Shallots, Oranges, Orange Juice, Orange Zest, Parsley, Parsnips, Peas, Pecans, Pepper, Black Pepper, White Pepper, Pink Pepper, Pistachios, Potatoes, Raisins, Black Raisins, White Raisins, Chicken, Beef, Poultry, Roasted Meats, Rosemary, Rum, Sage, Salt, Kosher Salt, Stocks, White Chicken Stock, Brown Chicken Stock, Beef Stock, Veal Stock, Sugar, Brown Sugar, Raw Sugar, Granulated Sugar, Tamarind, Thyme, Turnips, Veal, Vegetables, Root Vegetables, Greens, Vinaigrettes, Walnuts, White Wine, Red Wine

Substitutes

Parsnip, Turnip

Nutritional Value USDA
CARROTS,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 41
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
3%
Sodium 69mg
6%
Potassium 320mg
3%
Total Carbohydrate 9g
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, and we are mostly talking about Western Carrots (which contain Beta Carotene), 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.

A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that women who at just 5 servings of 4 Raw Carrot sticks a week had a 54% decrease in their risk of getting ovarian cancer. Another study of 61,000 Swedish women found a similar decrease in the risks of kidney cancer from eating Carrots.

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