The carrot (Daucus carota), originating from southwestern Asia, is a root vegetable that comes in a myriad of colors. Typically recognized as orange, carrots can also be white, yellow, red, purple, and black. The taproot is the most commonly consumed part of the plant, but the leaves and seeds are edible as well. Carrots can be found growing on almost every continent on the globe except Antarctica. This versatile plant is easy to grow, has a very long storage life and can be used from drinks to main courses to desserts.
Carrots are a biennial in the umbelliferous family and are related to parsnips, parsley, and cilantro. The domesticated carrot we enjoy today has been selectively bred for its enlarged size, sweet flavor, and non-woody texture. Over thousands of years it went from being a small, bitter, spindly white root, to a fleshy pigmented edible root. Carrot leaves grow in a rosette of fern-like leaves which produce a large amount of sugar that it stores in an enlarged taproot. If not harvested the first year of growth, the overwintered roots left in the soil will produce a flower stalk that makes seeds. They grow best in sandy, deep loamy soils. Rocky or clay rich soils stunt their growth and cause malformation of the root. Carrots typically go from seed to a harvestable root in approximately 90 days. The seeds are very small and must be kept moist to germinate. Once they begin to grow, thin them to 2 inches in between each carrot to give them room to expand.
There are two cultivated types of carrots, which include Eastern or Asiatic, often called anthocyanin carrots because of their purple, black roots and Western, or carotene carrots, which have orange, red, or white roots. Western carrots tend to be sweeter and more tender and were first cultivated in the Netherlands in the 16th or 17th century. The orange color is the result of selecting a hybrid progeny from the Eastern carrots.
Even before carrots were domesticated, the wild plants were grown medicinally. According to the doctrine of signatures, carrots, when sliced, resemble an eye, which is why they were believed to have been good for eye ailments and improving sight. This is partially true, especially if you are suffering from the lack of vitamin A and C. Carrots are also referred to as “the poor mans’ ginseng” as it contains more than 490 phytochemicals. Beta-carotene and alpha-carotene are antioxidants, which help the immune system to target and destroy cancer cells in the body. It also prevents DNA variation and fat oxidation and protects cells from free radicals. Carrots also contain fiber, calcium, potassium, Vitamin C, and K. Your body converts the beta and alpha-carotene into Vitamin A. Carrots have strong antiseptic qualities, can be used as a laxative, vermicide, poultice, and treatment of the liver. As with all fruits and vegetables, the darker carrots—orange, red, purple, and black contain the most amount of vitamins and nutrients.
During World War II, the British Air Force started a rumor that eating carrots gives you night vision to mislead their enemies into thinking they could see their targets in the dark. In actuality, they had an advanced radar system. To support the troops, the Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, encouraged folks to eat more carrots and to grow victory gardens. A popular dish at the time was the “Woolton Pie,” which is a savory, vegetable pot pie that did not contain meat.
Pulping, juicing, or cooking carrots releases 30% more beta-carotene than eating raw out of hand. An alarming side effect of consuming all this orange goodness is that the beta-carotene can cause your skin to develop an orange hue, most common in children.
Carrot leaves, or tops, are also edible and highly nutritious. They contain alkaloids and minerals, which make them slightly bitter, but bitter does not mean toxic. Some people may be more sensitive to them, but like most foods, when eaten in moderation, they are fine. They taste like a combination of parsley and well, carrots. Be sure to wash them very well before consuming since they tend to be gritty.
Carrot seeds are pressed for their rich oil. It is believed to be one of the best oils to rejuvenate and regenerate skin and hair. It is also used in aromatherapy to help diminish feelings of fatigue, anxiety, and stress.
If you are interested in learning more about carrots, there is an online, virtual carrot museum you can visit for recipes, health information, collectibles, and more at: carrotmuseum.com
Also be sure to Google “Long Island Vegetable Orchestra” to hear actual, professional musicians playing music with vegetable instruments.
Carrot Mug Cake
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp milk (cow, nut or grain)
1 Tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp cinnamon
1/4 Tsp ginger
2 Tbsp grated carrots
2 Tbsp raisins
Pinch of salt
In a small bowl add egg, oil, and milk. Blend with a fork. Add dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Stir in vanilla, raisins, and carrots. Transfer to a microwavable mug and cook on high for one and a half minutes. Let cool slightly and enjoy!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3 Large carrots
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Wash and peel carrots. Slice them lengthwise (I use a cheese slicer to cut long, thin slices) or cut in 1/8-inch thick discs, and add to a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil—coat the carrots very lightly. Add salt and pepper and lay onto a baking sheet without overlapping. Bake approximately for five minutes, then turn the carrots over and bake another five to ten minutes until crisp.
Lay the carrot pieces on cooling racks until they are cold and dry. Tightly seal in a container to keep them crisp.
Carrot Top Pesto
Tops from six to eight carrots (depending on the size of them). Cut off the lower three to four inches of the tough, fibrous stalk.
3 Cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon—zest and juice
1/3 cup parmesan cheese (or 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast)
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
Add all ingredients in a food processor with just half the oil. Pulse a few times to combine. Slowly drizzle in the additional olive oil while it is blending until it reaches the consistency you prefer. Add salt.
Serve over hot pasta, potatoes, smear on bread or on pizza.
Jen’s Lacto-Fermented Carrots
4 Cups water
1/8 Cup sea salt or kosher salt (non-ionized)
10 Carrots, washed (not peeled), cut into 1/4-inch sticks or discs
1 Clove garlic, crushed
5 Black peppercorns
2 Clean, sterilized 1 quart mason jars with lids (or one 2 quart jar)
Bring water to a boil and add salt. Stir until the salt is dissolved and turn off the heat. Let cool.
Carefully add carrots, garlic, and peppercorns to the jar. Do not fill beyond the shoulder of the jar. Pour brine over the vegetables being sure to cover them completely, leaving them at least 1/2 inch below the surface of the brine. If you need to, put a shot glass or a small weight on the carrots to hold them below the surface of the brine. Screw on the lid, leaving it slightly loose. Set the jars in a dark, temperature stable cupboard or basement out of all sunlight. After one week, open to let gasses escape and to taste. The brine will become cloudy and slightly effervescent. Every few days, taste until the ferment is the flavor you like. The longer it sits, the stronger the flavor will be. Once you feel they are done, put the jar in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process. Consume within three months. This recipe is very adaptable—you can add cauliflower, radish, onions, turnips, or any vegetable you like.