(Daucus carota ssp. sativu— Family Umbelliferae)
Carrots come in many different colours:
and of course, orange.
Originally, the most common colour was purple; but, now, it is orange.
It was first exported from Holland in the 17th century. Domestication is thought to have occurred around the Mediterranean, Iran, and the Balkans.
The Greeks cultivated them for medicinal uses, valuing them as a stomach tonic. In Roman and early medieval times, carrots were branched like the roots of wild types.
The now familiar conical shapes seem to have originated in Asia Minor about 1000 CE. Moorish invaders took them to Spain in the 12th century. They reached Northwest Europe by the 14th, and England by the 15th century.
Although purple was the popular colour at that time, one yellow variety was mentioned as turning a nasty brown when cooked.
The Elizabethans and early Stuarts used the flowers, fruit, and leaves as fashion accessories for hats and dresses. Carrot tops were highly prized as a substitute for feathers especially in the fall when their colours were more vibrant.
European explorers took the carrot across the Atlantic soon after the discovery of the New World. It was found growing on Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela in 1565 and arrived in Brazil in the early 17th century. The Pilgrims took it to North America, and early colonists grew it in Virginia by 1609.
Carrots, like many other root vegetables, are highly prone to pesticide residue and other farm chemicals, especially nitrates. Therefore, it is wiser to shop organic. The flavour is vastly superior in the organically grown carrot, tasting like carrots should rather than “orange cardboard”.
Organically grown carrots do not need peeling, a decided advantage since most of the nutrients lie just under the surface.
Carrots are an excellent source of the deep yellow carotenoids that produce vitamin A. They are also a good source of magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and B complex, and a form of calcium that is easily absorbed by the body.
During the first five months of storage, carrots will actually increase their vitamin A content; and, if protected from heat or light, can hold their nutrient content for another two or three months.
Since carrots are rich in beta carotene, steaming them makes this nutrient more readily availability to the body as heat breaks down the tough cellular walls that encase the nutrient.
The crisp texture of carrots is the result of the cell walls being stiffened with the indigestible food fibers cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.
Carrots contain a high amount of sugars, primarily sucrose, but very little starch or fat. Storing carrots near apples or other fruits that manufacture ethylene gas as they ripen, encourages the development of terpenoids in the vegetable and causing them to become bitter when exposed to ethylene.
Carrot juice combined with beetroot is used as a blood purifier and to prevent diarrhea.
Other therapeutic uses include relief from asthma, general nervousness, dropsy, and skin disorders. Recent research suggests that carrots, with their high beta carotene content, slow and prevent cancerous growths.
The Canadian and American Cancer Societies are recommending deep yellow vegetables rich in carotenes because they may lower the risk of cancers of the larynx, esophagus, and lungs.
In the body, the vitamin A from carrots becomes 11-cis retinol, the essential element in rhodopsin, a protein found in the rods of the eye that absorbs light, which triggers a chain of chemical reactions that produces vision. Carrot tops or greens are also high in nutrients and are excellent steamed and combined with other vegetables.
The two main carrot varieties are regular and baby with many variations in between.
Carrots can be long and thin, straight and narrow (Nantes), more red than orange (Scarlet Nantes), the shape and size of golf balls (Thumbelina), or twice as high in beta carotene (Park’s Beta Champ Hybrid).
Like regular carrots, baby or mini carrots can be purple, yellow, orange, red, or white. Babies are cultivars that develop full flavour and colour when tender and small. They can also be globular-shaped, teardrop, cylindrical, or tapered.
In order to be sure this is what you are getting, buy only those with their greens and roots attached. Be aware, that the cute baby carrots found in the supermarket are not a variety grown by nature but rather the product of technology.
They are formed by a machine that cuts them out from full sized older carrots and in some cases, puts green food colouring at the “stem” end for further effect.
Caution: 1) Carrots contain peroxidase, a natural chemical that turns the active ingredient, alphaguaiaconic acid, blue in the guiac slide test for hidden blood in feces, causing a positve result when there is actually no blood present. 2) While many are recognizing the benefits of vegetables in preventing disease some people eat too many carrots, which causes an orangey pigment to develop in the skin. The carotenoids in carrots are fat soluble and will be stored in the fatty tissues. While this in itself is not harmful, the effect has often been mistaken for jaundice and unnecessary medical procedures have ensued as a result. Eating large amounts of tomatoes every day will also cause the same effect, and is particularly common in those who juice their vegetables.
Growing carrots among onions reduces carrot fly attacks.
Carrots also help the growth of peas, a companionship often taken on in to the table.
When left to flower, carrots attract hoverflies and other such beneficial predatory insects to the garden.
An important characteristic for judging quality is the ratio between the juicy, nutrient-rich, outer fleshy part and the woody core or heart. A higher proportion of fleshy outer part and a small, tender core similar in colour are considered ideal. The brighter the colour, the higher the carotene content.
The sugar content averages 6% and higher for early varieties sold in bunches than that of larger carrots sold loose in the fall and winter.
There are several groups of carrots and the names indicate root-shape and time of maturity. With successful sowing, it is possible to harvest carrots nine months of the year.
Beta Sweet is the trademarked name of the large and baby wine-coloured carrots. They are also sold generically as burgundy, bordeaux, and maroon carrots.
In 1988, while inspecting some Nantes-type carrots, three slightly maroon specimens were spotted, and thus began the cross-breeding of the high-carotene orange varieties with these shoots to produce a sweet, crisp carrot with a more uniform maroon colour. This trait indicates anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant.
Three other popular varieties are Flyaway, Sytan, and Juared (Juwarot).
Types of carrots include the following:
have small stumpy cylindrical roots and include the varieties Amsterdam Forcing-3 and Sweetheart.
Autumn King types
are large and late-maturing grown for winter use and storage. Some varieties are Autumn King and 2 Vita Longa.
are cylindrical and stumpy and grown as a late crop for storage. Some varieties include Camberly, Ingot (extremely tasty and particularly high in beta carotene and Vitamin C).
are stumpy and slightly tapered and the maincrop for summer. Some varieties are Red Cored Supreme, Red-Cored-2, and Babycan.
are broader and longer and include varieties called Nantes Express, Navarre, and Newmarket.
Paris Market types
have small round or square roots that are ideal for early harvest. These include Early French Frame, Little Finger, and Parmex.