Your parents may have bribed you to eat carrots as a kid, but now that you’re running the show in your own kitchen, you might have a different take on this vibrant veggie.
Carrots can bring so much color and flavor to your recipe rotation. They’re sweet, which makes ingredients like maple syrup and brown sugar perfect complements, but they also have a surprisingly delicious bitter quality that bodes well with balsamic vinegar or a simple salt and pepper mixture.
You can dice ‘em, slice ‘em, chop ‘em, spiralize ‘em, and so much more. You can always count on carrots — whether frozen, fresh or canned — when you need to up the ante on a meal. They bring both nutrients and flavor to the table. Let’s learn a little more about them, shall we?
How are carrots grown
You’ll find carrots in stores year-round. Fall is their peak season, but they’re also prime for picking in Spring. Once planted, they take 2 to 4 months to mature. Experts have traced their origins back to 3000 B.C. in Iran and Afghanistan, but it wasn’t until the 17th century that carrots started to look like the orange veggie we see in grocery stores today. Before that, carrots were sporting purple skin (you can also find white, yellow and red carrots).
Types of carrots
Word is that when purple carrots suffered a genetic mutation, it caused them to lose their color and reveal an orange core. That’s when the orange carrot we know and love was born (er, grown?). But even beyond color variety, there are several types of carrots.
- Imperator and Danver carrots are the tapered carrots you usually see in stores.
- Nantes are shorter and more cylinder-shaped carrots.
- Mini carrots are those cuties we like to dip.
- Chantenay carrots are short, cone-like carrots.
Beta carotene, which your body converts into Vitamin A, is the star nutrient in carrots — hence why they’re good for our eyesight. Carrots also have healthy doses of vitamins B and C, and they contain calcium pectate, which can help lower cholesterol (and is also what makes vegetables extra crisp).
According to the USDA nutrient database, 1 cup of sliced carrots contains:
- 50 calories
- 1.13 grams of protein
- 3.4 grams of fiber
- 0.3 grams of fat
- 5.78 grams of sugar
What is bad about carrots?
While it offers tons of nutrition, beta carotene has one possible side effect: carotenemia. It sounds dangerous, but all it really means is that your skin can become slightly yellowish if you consume too much. It will fade away after you decrease intake.
Selecting and storing carrots
Before storing whole carrots, cut off the green tops and store them separately if you plan to cook with them (or just toss or compost them). The stems tend to hog the hydration. You can store carrots in an unsealed plastic bag or in a cold water bath for several weeks in the fridge. When shopping for carrots, look for firm stalks. They’re past their prime if they have soft spots.
How to cook carrots
Cooking carrots releases more beta carotene, making them more nutrient dense once they’re heated. Luckily, there’s a variety of ways to cook with carrots. They can stand alone or complement other ingredients.
- Roasted: Roasting carrots brings out their sweet taste. They contain natural sugars and don’t need much additional flavor. Salt, pepper and some butter are perfect. Precook them in foil, uncover, and finish cooking uncovered so they get nice, brown color.
- Blanched and glazed: Add sliced carrots to boiling water for just a few minutes until tender. Remove from water and then cook them in a butter glaze (I like to add lemon juice and maple syrup, but you can get creative).
- Spiralized: They pair great with spiralized zucchini and squash. Roast and top with a yogurt avocado sauce to make a vegetable salad. I also top cooked vegetable noodles with spicy shrimp.
- Diced or chopped: Add to stir-frys and soups.
- Shredded or thinly sliced: Carrots add extra crunch to salads, coleslaw and noodle dishes.