Produce Spotlight: The Ultimate Guide to Carrots
This month’s produce spotlight is all about Carrots. I have the answers to your questions about carrots including, are the tops edible, how to grow them, how to store them. If you’re wondering should I remove the carrot tops before storing them, or what the difference is for yellow and purple carrots, then read on! The answers and much more are included in todays produce guide.
Carrot Origin and Growing Tips
What is the origin of carrots?
William Woys Weaver writes in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening “While the white carrot is native to Europe, the genetic origin of both yellow and violet carrots is believed to be Afghanistan. Both the yellow and violet carrots were mentioned by Arabic writers and moved westward through Iran into Syria, and then into Spain by the 1100s.”
“By the early 1300s, the violet carrot was being cultivated in Italy, but the familiar orange form came along later, probably during the 17th century.” – Elizabeth Schneider, the Essential Vegetable Reference from Amaranth to Zucchini
Where are they grown?
Carrots can be grown in a variety of growing zones but prefer to be planted in cooler weather, after danger of heavy frost. A fall planting can occur after the heat of the summer. In warmer growing zones (such as 10) carrots are best grown in the fall and winter.
When are carrots in season?
Generally speaking, they are in season in mid to late summer and fall. Though in warmer climates, they can be grown in the winter time. Either way, they are great storing crops so are available through the winter months.
What kind of growing conditions do they prefer?
First and foremost- carrots prefer conditions where they can’t be eaten by rabbits, deer, gophers etc. I personally have had a terrible time trying to grow carrots because I have a rabbit problem.
According to the Vegetable Gardner’s Bible by Edward C Smith, carrots like deep wide raised beds and germinate in moist 45 to 75 degrees F soil. The colder the soil the longer the seeds will take to germinate. Because the seeds are so tiny, it is difficult to plant them in an evenly spaced manner, and if they’re broadcast, they’ll need to be thinned. If they are grown too closely they can be stunted or misshapen. Thinning can be tricky because you can accidentally pull up or disturb the carrots intended to stay. Trimming the tops with scissors is a work-around. Seed tapes and seeds which have been artificially embedded in pellet material are available, but are more expensive, and may take longer to germinate.
I asked Registered Dietitian and Health Coach Jennifer Lynn-Pullman MA, RDN, CSOWM, LDN from Nourished Simply the following four questions in this section about Carrot nutrition.
What are the benefits of eating carrots?
Carrots like other vegetables are rich sources of fiber and many vitamins and minerals. Carrots are an excellent source of Beta-carotene, biotin, vitamin K, and potassium in particular. Beta-carotene is responsible for the orange-yellow pigment found in carrots and other vegetables. Beta-carotene is also an antioxidant and a provitamin A. As a provitamin A, Beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is necessary for growth and development, reproduction, maintenance of our immune system, and for low-light and color vision. Many people suggest that eating carrots is good for your eyesight. Consuming carrots will give you a rich source of beta-carotene, which will, in turn, supply your body with necessary Vitamin A that is needed for normal eye function. Consumption of carrots won’t improve impaired vision or give you “super” vision.
I’ve heard that carrots can make your skin turn orange if you eat too many of them. Is this true, and how likely is that to happen?
Carotenemia is a yellowing of the skin caused by excessive consumption of carotene-rich foods such as carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes. The condition is harmless and is generally seen in infants and young children since commonly used baby foods include carrots and sweet potatoes. Carotene builds up in the bloodstream and turns skin yellow/orange particularly on the palms of hands, soles of feet and around the nose. The condition will resolve when carotene-rich foods are decreased.
What are the nutritional differences between cooked and raw carrots?
Cooking processes may slightly decrease the beta-carotene content. Boiling for long periods will cause nutrients to leach out into the cooking water. To preserve the nutrient content of many vegetables, cooking should be quick with limited water, such as steaming or microwaving. However, the cooking process does help make beta-carotene more available for our bodies to absorb.
Are carrots high in carbs and or high glycemic?
Clients commonly tell me they avoid eating carrots because they are too high in sugar. In fact, carrots are considered a non-starchy vegetable. Non-starchy vegetables per serving only contain about 5 grams of sugar. Starchy vegetables, on the other hand, contain about 15 grams of sugar per serving. The glycemic index of carrots is around 6, which is low.
Buying and Storing Carrots
Buying Tips: Look for carrots that are dry and free from any signs of sprouting. Avoid carrots that have become soft or have visible rot. Carrots that are larger, while easier to peel, are not necessarily more flavorful. Unless you have a desire to use the greens (see below) I recommend buying carrots without their greens as they will have the highest moisture content. The exception for this would be if you are shopping at a Farmers’ market, and you can verify that the carrots were just dug.
Can you eat carrot greens? Yes you can eat carrot greens. But, Mara Welton of Half Pint farm says they are a bit fibrous. She recommends juicing them or adding them to your home-made stock. She also says that when the greens come from young carrots they will be more tender.
Chef April Bloomfield, in A Girl and Her Greens explains that carrot tops are “a little less carroty than the roots, and almost briny, like heartier borage.” She says you can use small pieces of them as you would herbs or in larger amounts the carrot tops can be used to make pesto.
Should I Cut The Greens Off My Carrots?
Yes you should cut the greens off as soon as possible. The greens will otherwise pull moisture, and possibly nutrients, from the carrot roots. Store the greens in a separate plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Home grown carrots can be stored for the cold season in a root cellar. The Vegetable Gardner’s Bible recommends to do so in damp sand or sawdust or in a bin or box. Otherwise for smaller amounts, keep carrots in plastic bags in the produce drawer of the refrigerator.
Pete’s Greens of Vermont says fresh baby carrots should be refrigerated loosely wrapped and used as soon as possible. Larger ones can keep longer. They often recommend keeping them in the crisper drawer, unwashed.
To Freeze Carrots:
- Peel and cut carrots into dice or slice.
- Blanch the carrots in boiling water 1 to 2 minutes depending on how large the dice or slice is.
- Drain and submerge in ice water. Drain thoroughly.
- Spread out in a single layer on a sheet pan. Freeze the sheet pan.
- Once the carrots are frozen, transfer them to a large re-sealable bag and keep frozen up to 4 months.
Click Here to see how to Pickle Carrots and store in jars
Recipes and Cooking with Carrots
What is the difference between yellow, orange and purple varieties? There are slight flavor differences between the different varieties of carrots but not enough that they cannot be used interchangeably.
Purple carrots, when peeled are most often orange inside. Some are mottled slightly reddish just beneath the skin, but often are not red all the way through. If you have a variety that is in fact dark red through, they will stain the other carrots that are cooked with them.
Here is a clip of me making Maple Glazed Carrots with beautiful locally grown carrots that are deep purple, orange and yellow on Local 22. This recipe is from my cookbook, and the link to print the recipe is here.
Home grown or farmers market carrots are often more flavorful than grocery store carrots. Carrots found in the grocery store are often bread for storage and shipping, not for flavor.
Recipes For Carrots
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Please let me know in the comments below what your favorite way to cook carrots is. Or let me know if you have any tips about carrots. I would love to hear from you!