All About Carrots
So, you want to know all about carrots: colors, varieties, nutrition, history, recipes, sugar content? Good, ’cause that’s just what I intend to tell you all about. This storied vegetable is central to a seasonal kitchen. It is colorful, versatile, nutritious, and easy to store for future use. In many of the references used for this post, carrots were called the perfect health food because of their sweet flavor, crisp crunch, and nutrient density.
So, let’s dig into carrots!
Why are carrots orange?
I’ve read many accounts of how carrots came to be predominantly orange. I’m going to quote from the Mythbusters blog Tested below, but first want to mention a few interesting facts:
- The word orange comes from the fruit, rather than the fruit being named after the color. Huh.
- Carrots were originally yellow, white and purple. There were no orange carrots before the 16th century.
- The orange carrot comes from the yellow variety.
- The purple carrot is from Afghanistan.
I’ve checked out the carrot color story in several sources including The Washington Post, Deborah Madison, the Carrot Museum, and TreeHugger. Here’s what Mythbusters has to say about the color of carrots:
So, there you have it! It’s good to be the king…if you like carrots, that is.?
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One medium sized carrot has about 25 calories. It has no fat and 42 mg of sodium. 195 mg of Potassium. This carrot has 6 grams of carbohydrates, this is because it has a high glycemic index. (We’ll talk more about that in a minute.) Your mom was right, carrots are good for the eyes as this little guy has 203% of the daily requirement for vitamin A. Other vitamins of note in carrot nutrition are calcium 2%, vitamin C 6%, iron 1%, B-6 5%, and magnesium 1% of the daily nutritional requirements. Source, Wikipedia.
As a four-season gardener, I love carrots because they both grow easily through the fall and winter and actually taste better after a frost. Cold temperature triggers the plant to convert starches to sugar and thus keep it from freezing. Winter carrots are sweeter and generally more flavorful.
If, like me, you seek a low carb diet, you’ll find carrots on the list of foods to limit. They can have such a high sugar content they stimulate insulin production. If you struggle with Type II Diabetes, you probably limit the number of carrots in your diet as well. Me, I use them in moderation for flavor and color in a variety of soups, meat dishes, and salads. You can read more about the Glycemic Index here.
Garden Tips for a Successful Carrot Harvest
Dill, parsley, anise, celery, fennel, parsnips and Queen Ann’s Lace all belong to the same family of plants as carrots, Apiacea, the parsley family. This plant family has fern-like leaves and is usually aromatic in flavor. Their flowers are an umbrella of tiny white flowers. Many seed spices are in this family as well: cumin, coriander, etc. The Latin name for carrots is daucus carota (daucus is latin for carrot).
Carrots aren’t easy to grow. They need loose soil, or you need to select the right variety of your thick clay soil like we do. They take a long time to germinate, thus giving plenty of time and space for weeds to take over the carrot bed. Even though we harvest the root, the tops need full sun for the plant to thrive. Carrots need moist, well-drained soil.
At Stony Ridge Farm, we have a thick clay soil. Here is our method of growing a satisfying crop of carrots:
- Plant carrots in late August for a tasty fall/winter harvest. Or, in a hoop house/greenhouse in 50-degree soil in February/March.
- Do not plant carrots in a raised bed recently fertilized with manure. The nitrogen content may be too high and will give you very ugly carrots. Trust me, we did this. It wasn’t pretty.
- Select varieties appropriate to the soil type in the bed selected for this year’s crop. If we plant carrots in one of our clay beds, we will choose a small and short variety, like the Parissiene/Atlas. Planting the right variety of carrot in a new bed with more clay in the soil can help with tillage, with breaking up the clay and allowing more organic matter into the soil over time. If we pant carrots in one of our older beds with better, richer soil, we choose the Napoli variety. It is a longer, more familiar looking carrot, but it doesn’t penetrate too deeply into the clay. This makes harvest easier. In the older beds, I also like to plant the kaleidoscope carrot mix to get the full spectrum of colors. (I do not much care for the white carrots by taste or texture, so sometimes I make my own carrot mix.)
- Carrots can grow in a fairly dense cluster. I have planted carrots in rows and scattered seed over the entire bed. Both methods have their benefits. The rows are useful when you are worried about drought conditions during germination as you can cut the trench, sprinkle in vermiculite, layer on your carrot seed, cover, and water. The vermiculite will help the soil stay moist during the long germination period (up to 2 weeks).
- Weeds are a big problem with carrots during the first month. Here is an entertaining and informative video on carrot crop maintenance:
5 Carrot Recipes to Keep Your Meals Nutritious and Flavorful
Any time of year, get yourself to your garden, the food co-op or a winter farmer’s market and pick up some fresh-harvested winter carrots. Eat them raw, use them with dips instead of crackers, or try one of these five recipes I’ve selected to offer you both the rich nutrition and taste of fresh carrots.
- Pure Wow has this basic roasted carrot recipe that can also be used with any root vegetable, including beets and parsnips. Make a big batch on the weekend and use them throughout the week to enhance the flavor of your meals. You can use them on sandwiches, under a fried egg, in salads. Really, you’ll love them so much because they taste like candy!
- The Minimalist Baker has this amazing Noodle Free Pad Thai recipe that I think I’m making for dinner tonight. Friends, get your spiralizers ready!
- Make this chimichurri sauce (a garlicky green sauce from Argentina) and keep it on hand to use with your roasted carrots, and on just about any roasted vegetable dish. You can make this with the carrot tops as your greens.
- Food 52 recommends a winter carrot salad with fresh ricotta, pistachios, and herbs.
- Finally, move the carrots from the sides and main dishes into the dessert arena with these mini carrot pudding pies. Yum!
Has this article given you just enough information to feel overwhelmed? Here are some of my favorite resources for selecting, cultivating and harvesting carrots:
- How To Grow Carrots by The Spruce
- Rodale’s Organic Institute Carrot Growing Guide
- Grow Organic‘s fairly thorough guide for growing organic carrots
More from the blog
Join the January Seasonal Living Challenge!
Here’s our post on Aliums – onions.
Click here to learn about the nutritional benefits of cooking with fresh herbs.
And, here’s more on fall gardening and overwintering crops.
Our nod to the carrot with Bob’s farm-themed poster, Orgasmic Carrots.
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