Western Carrot
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There are two main types of Carrots in production in the world. The two types are separated by geography. Our 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 (which is the other main type). 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 (Eastern Carrots) arrived sometime in the 8th to 11th century and that orange Carrots (Western 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. The most important thing to know about the differences between Eastern Carrots and Western Carrots is that Western Carrots contain Beta-Carotene, which give them their distinctive orange color, and Eastern Carrots do not.

The Orange Western Carrot is our basic Carrot in the North America. Carrots of different colors are primarily novelty crops, though they have become more popular in recent years. Today Western or Carotene Carrots come in colors like orange, white, red and yellow, even the purple that was previously the sole domain of Eastern/Asian Carrots.  The pigments in these “rainbow” Carrots provide different health benefits according to their colors.  For example, red carrots contain Lycopene, also present in Tomatoes and Watermelon, which helps lower the risk of certain cancers like prostate cancer.  Yellow Carrots contain Lutein, helpful in preventing cancer and promoting eye health.

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

Western 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.

Western 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 Western 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 (LeeksShallots 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) OnionsLeeks and/or Chives can help repel the pest. Carrots are known to do well around CarawayCorianderChamomile 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.

Western Carrot cultivars are usually classified by their root shape, which makes it easier for large growers and packagers to choose the kinds that will work best with machinery (as you can imagine, the wide variation in the size and shape of Carrots can cause major headaches on an assembly line).

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.™

In this section on Western 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, Purple Haze Carrot, Black Knight Carrot, Chantenay Carrots, 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

Traditional orange-colored Western Carrots are found almost everywhere. The Western Carrots that come in a rainbow of colors can be harder to find and identify because they still aren’t carried in most of our workaday grocery stores. If you are going to find them, they will likely be found at farmer’s markets and in specialty produce stores.

Look for Western Carrots with bright, vibrant colors and very 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 of Western Carrots. 

Any Carrot Greens, the clipped top where the greens were attached, should be a 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

Western 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.

Carrots 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. 

Culinary Uses

The short story on the Culinary Uses of Western 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™ Western 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 Western 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 SlicingDicingGrating, 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 Western 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 StocksStewsSoups 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 Western 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 Western 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 (StewingBoilingBraising, etc.) are used to cook Purple Western Carrots. Shorter cook times yield less bleeding and better purple color.

There are scores of good ways to prepare and use Western Carrots. If you are at a loss as to how to get started Peeling CarrotsSlicing them and then Sautéing the Carrot slices along with a dab of Whole ButterSalt and Pepper, is a simple way to jump right in.

As you get more comfortable with a Western 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 Parsleyfor color contrast.

Western 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.

Portion Size

Allow 2-3 oz of Western 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, OilsPeanut OilMustard OilSesame OilGrapeseed OilVegetable OilOlive OilOnionsScallionsYellow OnionsRed OnionsWhite OnionsShallots, Oranges, Orange Juice, Orange Zest, ParsleyParsnips, Peas, PecansPepperBlack PepperWhite PepperPink 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

Substitutes

ParsnipTurnip

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 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