Although carrots are available throughout the year, locally grown carrots are in season in the summer and fall when they are the freshest and most flavorful. Carrots belong to the Umbelliferae family, named after the umbrella-like flower clusters that plants in this family produce.

Origin

  • Two original forms of Daucus carota: white & multicoloured
  • Both: very tough, wide main root, with spindly side roots off of it
  • White – hardy; could grow in many climates; native to many regions
    • Today, known as Queen Anne’s Lace or carrot weed – dominates over other carrot subspecies when crossing occurs
  • Multicoloured – purple on surface, with rings of red, orange, yellow and white inside
    • Native to the Iranian Plateau in the mountains of central Asia
    • Not as hardy as white
    • Requires hot, dry climate to grow well and go to seed
    • All other colours of carrot bred from this original subspecies
  • Originally, carrots were grown primarily for their seed – root was too tough and bitter to eat

Spread Around World

  • Not clear exactly where/when first domestication occurred
  • 1st recorded cultivation in Afghanistan, 1000 years ago – most probably the multicoloured carrot
  •  1100s - Cultivated carrot spread via the Middle East and North Africa into Spain
  • 14th century – southern Europe
  • 16th century – throughout rest of Europe
  • Orange carrots first developed on large scale in 16th century by Dutch breeders
  • 17th century – red carrots being cultivated in India & China
  • Today – carrots grown throughout the world; orange most common, although other colours still grown in some regions
  • different coloured varieties available to home gardeners

Nutrition

  • Lots of beta carotene à Vitamin A (healthy skin, vision, immune system)
    ** form of beta carotene in carrots – most easily absorbed form for human body; also highest antioxidant capacity
  • High levels of potassium, vitamin K & fiber
  • Also high in biotin – a B-complex vitamin with key role in fat & sugar metabolism
  • Several other vitamins & minerals
  • Highest concentration of nutrients in & just below the skin.

Colour Factor

  • Orange: beta-carotene
  • Purple: Anthocyanins & usually higher beta-carotene than orange
  • Red: Lycopene & anthocyanins
  • Yellow: Lutein & other carotenoids
  • White: no pigments, but high in fibre, potassium & magnesium

Cooking Uses

  • Cooking lightly increases nutritional value of carrots à activates antioxidants/nutritional compounds
  • Better to steam than boil – less leaching of water-soluble nutrients
  • Or add them to soups, sauces or stews, so dissolved nutrients will remain in the liquid
  • Can eat raw as a snack or grated in salads

Anecdotes/Interesting Tidbits

  •  Purple and white carrots still grow wild in Afghanistan today – can be used to produce a strong alcoholic beverage
  • The largest carrot ever grown was 19 pounds; grown by John Evans in 1998 in Palmer, Alaska