This is an updated version of my original post on “Carrots 101 – The Basics.” The information has been expanded and new sections added for more comprehensive information. Hopefully, any question you have about carrots will be answered below.
Carrots 101 – The Basics (UPDATE)
Carrots are root vegetables that most of us are familiar with. No one knows exactly when carrots first came about, but they can be traced back 5,000 years through historical documents and paintings. They are native to many regions around the world, including Africa, Asia, and Europe. Carrots were eventually carried around the world, and are now grown in most areas as a food crop. Currently, China is the world’s top carrot producer, with many other countries, including the United States, playing important roles in the world’s production of carrots. In America, most carrots are grown in California, followed by Michigan, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Carrots are the sixth most consumed vegetable in the United States, preceded by potatoes, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and sweet corn.
The name “carrot” stems from the Greek word “karoton.” The first three letters were used to designate anything with a horn-like shape. In this case, the name was referring to the taproot of the carrot plant. The Vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene, was actually named from carrots (karoton), because they are so rich in this important nutrient. In America, we are most familiar with the orange variety of carrots. However, they also come in black (actually very deep purple), purple, red, white, and yellow varieties. The color of the carrot root results from various pigments that are intermediate products in the production of the carotenoids in the taproots. There are valuable nutritional qualities about each variety of carrot.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids). They also supply a lot of biotin, Vitamin K, dietary fiber, molybdenum, potassium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, manganese, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B1, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, folate, copper, Vitamin E and Vitamin B2.
Carrots are well-known for their high beta-carotene content. This gives them their color and valuable health properties. But they also contain other carotenoids and phytonutrients that provide strong health-promoting properties.
Antioxidant Benefits. All varieties of carrots supply valuable antioxidants in the form of assorted carotenoids. Various research studies have shown that subjects who ate deeply colored foods rich in antioxidant carotenoids, such as carrots, had a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, eye disease, and liver disease.
Cardiovascular Disease. The fiber and potassium found in carrots have been shown to lower blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Cancer. Antioxidants are known to stop the activity of harmful free radicals in the body. Too many free radicals increase our risk for cancer. A series of research studies has shown that dietary carotenoids, like those found in carrots, can decrease our risk specifically for prostate cancer, leukemia, colon cancer, and lung cancer.
Eye Disease. The Vitamin A (carotenoids) in carrots have been shown to help ward off xerophthalmia, an eye disease due to Vitamin A deficiency. If not treated with Vitamin A, this disease leads to night blindness, and can eventually dry out the eyes culminating in total blindness. In fact, xerophthalmia is one of the leading causes of blindness globally, especially in children in underdeveloped nations. Simply eating carrots or other deeply orange-yellow pigmented vegetables can help you avoid this devastating problem.
Liver Disease. The plant-flavonoids and beta-carotene in carrots stimulate and support overall liver function and also help to prevent liver disease. Carotenoids are fat-soluble compounds. When a carrot leaves the stomach, bile is released from the gallbladder into the intestinal tract to help with the digestive process. This stimulates the liver to produce more bile, promoting healthy liver function. In an animal study, researchers at the School of Pharmacy, Taipei Medical University in Taiwan, found that beta-carotene may prevent liver damage caused by alcohol. So, carrots seem to have multiple ways they can help to keep the liver healthy.
Blood Sugar Control. Many people shy away from carrots because they believe they are full of sugar. Actually, the carbohydrate content of carrots is about 10%, with about half of that being sugar. Another 30% of the carbohydrate content is fiber. With a medium carrot providing only 25 calories, that makes carrots a high-fiber, low-calorie food that is relatively low in sugar. Because of this, carrots have a low glycemic index. Boiled carrots have a glycemic index of around 39. This means they are unlikely to trigger a blood sugar spike and are safe for people with diabetes to eat. Researchers have determined that high-fiber foods may help prevent Type 2 diabetes, along with helping those with the disease to manage their blood sugar levels. So, there is no valid reason to fear carrots because of their natural carbohydrate content.
How to Select Carrots
In most grocery stores, fresh carrots can be found whole, with or without their green tops, sliced, shredded, and ground down to “baby” carrot size. This selection can make food preparation faster and easier, depending upon your needs. The following information pertains to purchasing whole, uncut carrots.
Look for carrots that are firm, smooth, bright in color and relatively straight. Avoid those that are excessively cracked, limp or rubbery. If the green tops are not attached, look at the color of the stem end. Darker color indicates an older carrot. If the green tops are still attached, they should be brightly colored, feathery, and not wilted.
The sugars are concentrated in the core of the carrot. So, larger carrots should be sweeter than very thin ones.
How to Store Carrots
Store carrots in the refrigerator, preferably in the coolest part. Minimize moisture loss by keeping them in a plastic bag or in the crisper drawer, wrapped in paper towels to help reduce condensation. Another way to store them is in a separate container with a lid, lined with a clean cotton cloth or paper towel. The cloth or paper towel will help to maintain a humid environment while absorbing excess moisture released by the carrots, keeping them from laying in water. Carrots stored like this should keep well for about two weeks, or longer.
If your carrots came with the green tops attached, the tops should be cut off from the carrots before being stored in the refrigerator. Leaving them attached will pull moisture from the carrot roots, causing them to wilt prematurely. To store carrot greens, wrap them in a slightly damp paper towel or cloth and place them loosely in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They are fragile and should be used soon after purchase, before they wilt.
Store carrots away from ethylene-producing fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears and potatoes. The ethylene gas can cause the carrots to taste bitter. They should keep well for about two weeks in the refrigerator. When you go to use them, discard any that smell or look bad…when in doubt throw them out!
How to Prepare Carrots
Wash and scrub carrots when you are ready to use them. Peeling them is not mandatory, but optional. Cut away and discard the stem end and any parts that look aged or unhealthy.
Peeled carrots that are allowed to sit unused for a while may turn whitish. This is simply a sign of dehydration from being exposed to the air. A little time in a bowl of water will revive them, if desired.
The green carrot leaves ARE edible and are not toxic. However, they do contain some compounds (alkaloids and nitrates) that some people may react to. Therefore, whether you choose to eat the tops or not is solely up to you. If you opt out, toss them outside for your local rabbit to enjoy!
Should You Peel Carrots?
Do you have to peel carrots? Can you eat carrots with the skin on? Should you eat carrots without peeling? These are questions that many people have. Well to answer that in a word: NO…you do not need to peel carrots. Carrots are perfectly safe to eat with the peel, as long as they are thoroughly washed. So, scrub them well to remove any dirt and debris, and also cut off the stem end and any areas that don’t look fresh.
Even if you’re an avid carrot peeler, here are circumstances where you really don’t need to peel:
1. When you’re making stock. They will be strained out anyway!
2. When you’re juicing carrots.
3. When they will be pureed. (Who would know they weren’t peeled?)
4. When they’re in a thick and chunky stew.
5. When they’re roasted (with the change in color/texture, the peel would be unnoticeable).
6. When they will be grated or finely chopped.
7. When you’re trying to get the most nutrients from your food. Vitamin C is most concentrated in the peel and immediately below the peel. Whether it’s peeled or not, it’s still very nutritious, but why not take advantage of the added nutrients in the peel?
So, when would we want to peel carrots?
- If you’re buying standard-grown carrots, those grown with the use of chemicals, those chemicals may be concentrated in the peel. So, if you want to avoid eating any added chemicals, in this case you may want to peel your carrots. Note that scrubbing them well under running water or soaking them for 15 minutes in a vinegar or baking soda solution will also remove most of the chemicals from the surface. Rinse and scrub them well after soaking in these solutions. No worries with organically grown carrots.
- Some people find that carrot peels have a bit of bitterness to them. If you are in this camp, then by all means, peel away if this bothers you! It’s more important to enjoy your food than struggle to eat something you don’t like. Or even worse, to avoid some nutritious food because the peel doesn’t taste good to you. In this case, peel them if that’s what it takes to eat them!
- Appearance. Peeled carrots certainly look nicer than unpeeled carrots. If you’re presenting raw carrot sticks to guests or taking food to some special occasion and you want your food to look its best, then peeling them may be something you want to do.
Whichever way you prefer to go…to peel or not to peel (THAT is the question), just know that as long as they are scrubbed well, and they look fresh and are blemish-free, there’s not a food safety issue with eating unpeeled carrots.
Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned Carrots
In most American grocery stores, carrots are available fresh, frozen and canned, year-round.
Fresh carrots are usually your best nutritional option and they are the most versatile, since they can be eaten raw or cooked in whatever way you want.
Frozen carrots are a great second choice since they are usually processed quickly after being harvested and a lot of their nutritional content has been preserved.
Canned options are always a good staple to have on hand for many reasons, especially in case of emergencies. But nutritionally speaking, they are the least preferred option.
How to Preserve Carrots
Freezing Carrots. Fresh carrots can easily be frozen. Wash and trim your carrots, removing the stem end and any blemishes. Peeling carrots is optional. Cut them into desired size pieces. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Place your prepared carrots (of equal size) into the boiling water and set your timer immediately. Whole small carrots should remain in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Diced or sliced carrots, or those cut into thin lengthwise strips should remain in the boiling water for 2 minutes. As soon as the timer is finished, transfer the blanched carrots to a bowl of ice water and leave them there for the same length of time they were in the hot water. Then drain them well and place them in freezer containers or bags, removing as much air as possible. Label the container with the current date. The blanched carrots should keep well for 10 to 12 months in the freezer.
Dehydrating Carrots. Carrots may also be dehydrated. They should be cut into thin slices or shredded for the best results. The carrots should be washed, trimmed, and blanched as detailed above. Then spread out the blanched, cooled, and drained carrots in a single layer on a mesh dehydrator tray. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended temperature and length of time suggested for dehydrating your carrots. When finished, they should be brittle or very tough and leathery. When broken in half, there should be no soft spots within. If there are, they are still moist inside and should be returned to the dehydrator until completely dry. Store your dried carrot pieces in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Placing an oxygen absorber in the container with the dehydrated carrots, and removing as much air as possible from the container will help to keep them fresh for an extended period of time. Properly prepared and stored dehydrated carrots will potentially last for years, so it is worth the effort to prepare them for the long haul.
Some people choose to dehydrate carrots without blanching them first. Yes, carrots may be dehydrated this way, but their quality will be poor. Blanching helps to preserve their color, texture, and flavor by deactivating enzymes that cause the vegetables to age while in storage. Furthermore, blanching kills any microorganisms that may be on the carrots, which can prevent foodborne illness later. Also, blanched vegetables dehydrate faster than those that were not treated first. If you opt to dehydrate carrots without blanching them first, they should be used within three months.
Tips for Using Dehydrated Carrots: To rehydrate your carrots, place them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Use twice the amount of water as dried carrots. (Example: Use 2 cups of boiling water to rehydrate 1 cup of dried carrot slices.) Allow them to soak for 20 to 45* minutes. They will be best used in soups, casseroles, sauces, stuffing, baked goods, stews, and any other dishes where they may continue to soak up liquid as needed.
* When using dehydrated carrots in soups or stews, allow them to soak for 20 to 30 minutes. Add any remaining soaking liquid to the pot. When using dehydrated carrots in fried rice, stir-fries, casseroles, etc., allow them to soak for 30 to 45 minutes, then drain any extra liquid before adding the rehydrated carrots to the recipe. The longer the dried carrots are allowed to soak, the more they will resemble freshly cut carrots.
3/4 cup of dried carrot slices = 1 pound of fresh carrot slices
1 cup of dried carrot pieces = 2 cups rehydrated carrot pieces
Here is a link to my video on “Dehydrating or Freezing Carrots” https://youtu.be/f1XZRLbrL5A
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Carrots
* Add shredded carrots to coleslaws, salads, and wraps.
* Add shredded carrots to baked goods like muffins.
* Enjoy carrot sticks with your favorite hummus as a snack or part of a meal.
* Add carrots to juices or smoothies.
* Enjoy carrots raw or steamed for the most nutritional value.
* Try a simple salad with shredded carrots, beets, and apple.
* For something different, try spiced carrot sticks. Soak carrot sticks in hot water spiced with cayenne, coriander seeds and salt. Allow them to cool in the water, drain, then serve.
* The carotenoids in carrots are fat-soluble, so you’ll absorb them best if they’re eaten with a little fat. [Note that’s a little fat; a lot of fat is not needed.] A couple walnuts, a little diced avocado, or a sprinkle of sesame seeds would provide plenty of fat for adequate absorption.
* For something different, add finely shredded carrots to your next batch of pancakes.
* Here’s a twist on pumpkin pie…make carrot pie instead! Substitute cooked, puréed carrots instead of pumpkin and make your pie as usual.
* FYI…Baby carrots are not a special variety of carrots that grow small. They are regular carrots that were “whittled” down to their small size.
* Top roasted carrots with a blend of yogurt and dates. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Carrots
Allspice, anise seeds, basil, bay leaf, caraway seeds, cardamom, chervil, chili pepper flakes, chili powder, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry powder, dill, fennel seeds, marjoram, mint, mustard (ground, seeds), nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary, salt, tarragon, thyme, turmeric, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Carrots
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (in general, esp. black, broad, green), beef, cashews, chicken, chickpeas, edamame, ham, hazelnuts, lentils, macadamia nuts, nuts (in general), peanuts, peanut butter, peas, pecans, pine nuts, pork, seafood, seeds (esp. poppy, sesame, sunflower), sesame paste, snap peas, tahini, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, celery root, chiles, chives, cucumbers, fennel, garlic, ginger, greens (in general), leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, root vegetables (in general), shallots, spinach, tomatoes, turnips, watercress, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, zucchini
Fruits: Apples, apricots, avocados, citrus fruits (in general), coconut, dates, dried fruits (in general), lemons, limes, olives, oranges, pineapple, pomegranate, raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, bulgur, corn, couscous, farro, millet, oats, pasta, quinoa, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, browned butter, cheese (esp. cheddar, cream, feta, goat, Parmesan, ricotta, Swiss), coconut butter, coconut milk, cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone, yogurt
Other Foods: Honey, maple syrup, miso, molasses, mustard (Dijon), oil (esp. coconut, olive, peanut, sesame, walnut), pesto, soy sauce, sugar (esp. brown), vinegar (esp. balsamic, cider, red wine, rice wine, white wine)
Carrots have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e., cakes, muffins), chili, crudités, curries, desserts (i.e., cakes, mousses), Moroccan cuisine, noodle dishes (esp. Asian), purees (i.e., carrot, root vegetable), risotto, salads, slaws, soups (i.e., carrot, onion, vegetable), stews (i.e., Moroccan tagines)
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Carrots
Add carrots to any of the following combinations…
Almonds + Pineapple + Vanilla
Apples + Cinnamon + Pecans + Vanilla
Apples + Raisins + Walnuts
Balsamic Vinegar + Beets + Chives + Greens
Brown Sugar + Orange + Pineapple + Raisins
Caraway Seeds + Cumin
Caraway Seeds + Garlic + Lemon + Olive Oil + Parsley
Cardamom + Maple Syrup + Orange + Yogurt [in a soup]
Celery + Onions
Chiles + Cilantro + Lime Juice
Cilantro + Ginger + Scallions + Sesame Oil
Cinnamon + Coconut + Nuts + Pineapple
Cinnamon + Nutmeg + Pineapple + Walnuts
Cinnamon + Orange + Vanilla
Coconut + Garlic + Ginger + Lime Juice
Cranberries + Orange + Walnuts
Cumin + Garlic + Lemon + Parsley
Dates + Sunflower Seeds + Yogurt
Dill + Lemon + Lentils
Fennel + Garlic
Fruit + Nuts (i.e., apples, oranges, pineapple, raisins; almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts)
Garlic + Potatoes + Thyme
Ginger + Honey + Rosemary
Ginger + Orange (or other citrus fruits)
Honey + Lemon Juice + Olive Oil + Raisins + Vinegar + Walnuts
Honey + Orange
Honey + Pineapple + Yogurt
Lemon Juice + Mustard + Parsley
Maple Syrup + Mustard
Nuts + Raisins
Parsnips + Thyme
Sesame Seeds + Sugar Snap Peas
Easy Orange Glazed Carrots (with Frozen Carrots) https://youtu.be/eVo8j8nzQoc
Roasted Honey (or Maple) Carrots with Walnuts https://youtu.be/AEe-sWP2J0E
Fast, Easy, Honey Glazed Carrots (from fresh carrots) https://youtu.be/pQLXzTl9wIs
Cook Easy, Fast, Glazed Carrots (from frozen carrots) https://youtu.be/2JYgp5d7fBk
Easy Kale, Carrot and Mushroom Combo https://youtu.be/kbLtLD1RSug
Kohlrabi Carrot Pineapple Salad https://youtu.be/fYSuyqJc12I
Carrot Coconut Soup http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=187
Primavera Verde http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=166
Steamed Vegetable Medley http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=58
Super Carrot Raisin Salad http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=164
Minted Green Peas and Carrots http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=189
Carrot Cashew Pate http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=294
Roasted Brown Butter Honey Garlic Carrots https://therecipecritic.com/roasted-brown-butter-honey-garlic-carrots/
Assorted recipes using carrots https://producemadesimple.ca/?s=carrot
20 of Our Best Carrot Recipes You Need to Try https://www.thekitchn.com/20-ways-to-use-up-a-bag-of-carrots-242467
32 Simple Carrot Recipes We Love https://www.foodandwine.com/slideshows/carrots#4
Minted Green Peas and Carrots http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=189
Raw Carrot Salad with Turmeric Dressing https://producemadesimple.ca/raw-carrot-salad-with-turmeric-dressing/
Apple-Carrot Muffins https://producemadesimple.ca/ontario-apple-carrot-muffins/
20+ Carrot Recipes https://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipes/20-carrot-recipes
Carrot Cake Pancakes https://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipe/carrot-cakes
51 Carrot Recipes Worth Their Weight in Gold https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/carrot-recipes
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.