Carrot

Carrot

Latin name: Daucus carota subsp. sativa
Uses: fresh or frozen vegetable, juice, food coloring

A flavorful counterpart to the disciplinary stick, carrots perfectly exemplify the best of human plant-breeding ingenuity. Millennia ago, Central Asians took the stringy, woody root of a wild plant (also known as the roadside weed Queen Anne’s lace) and eventually transformed it into a sweet and nutrient-rich esculent. Southern Europeans around 2000–3000 BCE preferred the carrot’s aromatic leaves and seeds — like their close relatives parsley, dill, and caraway. Although the orange root color is most typical today, black, purple, red, yellow, and white-rooted varieties have been cropping up in western markets over the past decade or so. Anthocyanins and carotenoids from these rainbow carrots are used for natural food dyes.

Why is carrot healthy? 

Carrots are one of the highest natural sources of phytochemicals like the antioxidant beta-carotene, a precursor for vitamin A. Beta-carotene gives carrots their bright orange hue, and it’s crucial for improving immunity, protecting skin and eye health, and fighting free radical damage that can cause chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease.

What does carrot taste like?

The leaves have a grassy, slightly bitter and parsley-like flavor that lend them well to pesto; this flavor is echoed (though quietly) in the taproot. The root has a subtly piney/woody flavor complementing its earthy sweetness. Different varieties have different sugar levels.

Where does carrot grow?

Though they originated in Central Asia (where the highest diversity of wild forms still exists) and global production is today dominated by China, carrots enjoy a fairly cosmopolitan distribution throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. The “western” type is sorted into four basic groups grown for their root shape and sugar content. Imperator are the most common, with long orange roots and mild flavor. Danvers are slightly shorter than Imperators, and can handle heavier soil. Nantes are sweet and nearly cylindrical in shape, and Chantenays are short and conical, with red cores.

How do I prepare carrot and what do I pair it with?

Carrots are ridiculously versatile and tend to play especially well with seeds from other members of their family, like cumin, caraway, and ajwan. Julienne them for a sweet and tangy Russian-Korean salad or for pickling into đồ chua; puree them into a silky bisque; add them to fragrant pilafs; bake them into cake with warm spices and nuts; glaze them in butter and honey. You can’t have a crudités platter or a mirepoix — the basis of pretty much every European broth and sauce — without carrots.

Surprising fact:

In 1772, among the many provisions Captain Cook brought on his ships venturing for the New World was a stow of 30 gallons of carrot marmalade. When his ship HMS Resolution completed its journey four years later, Cook had only lost one crew member to illness — and it wasn’t to scurvy. Over the following century, cookbooks included recipes for carrot marmalade as an economical alternative to orange. 

Recipes

Carrot Salad with Chile Vinaigrette

Carrot Marmalade

Brine-Pickled Carrots

Napa Slaw