10 Things You Didn't Know About Carrots

Whether you are talking about wild or domestic carrots, chances are this is one of your favorite vegetables. Belonging to the species daucus carota, you can find carrots all around the world, as they remain a star vegetable in many cuisines. But what do you really know about this biannual plant? We delved into its history and biology and found 10 interesting facts that will make you want to eat this vegetable even more.

1. Carrots were first grown in Afghanistan

While carrots are a common vegetable throughout the world, the first cultivated carrot in recorded history is thought to have come from the area around Afghanistan around 900 AD. Soon, this tasty veg spread to the surrounding areas and by the 1000s, it was in the Middle East and North Africa. From there it traveled to Spain, and by the 1300s it was popping up in Northern European gardens and in various dishes in China.

2. Crème de Lite, Long Orange and Scarlet Nantes are all types of carrots

Even though they are split into two categories, domestic and wild, there are more types of carrots than you have ever imagined. Long Oranges, tiny and stout Early Short Horns or their cousins the thin Half-Long Horns, the giant Jaune Obtuse du Doubs, fat Danvers, long and skinny Imperators, round Paris Markets and perfectly even Berlicums — just to name a few of the root shapes you can find. Then, you go into strains of carrots where you have the Crème de Lite, Sirkana, Top Cut, Red Core Chantenay, Scarlet Nantes and — in the spirit of Game of Thrones — Little Finger, a small orange specimen developed in France. 

3. Baby carrots aren't a type of carrot

With all that talk about carrot varietals, we had to address the phenomenon of baby carrots. Turns out they are either immature carrots, hence their small size, or pieces of larger, thin carrots that are cut into pieces. The latter idea came from Mike Yurosek, a California farmer who got tired of chucking blemished carrots away and started cutting and peeling the vegetables into tiny perfection. In 2010, carrot farmers got together and started promoting baby carrots as an alternative snack food — a successful campaign that has plenty of people snacking on carrots instead of chips.

4. You can leave them in the ground all winter

While so many wimpy vegetables need to be plucked and dug up, the mighty carrot can freeze itself happily in the ground. "After the carrots have had a light frost you cover them with about a foot of leaf mulch, which acts like insulation to prevent the ground and the carrots from freezing solid," says farmer Toby Fischer of Ro-Jo Farms in Bethany, Connecticut. "You can either over-winter carrots and harvest them in the spring, or continuously harvest them throughout the winter months." And when you do this, the carrot's sugars get more concentrated and the result is a super tasty, sweet vegetable that anybody who loves dessert will be excited to eat.

5. Carrots are made up of 88 percent water

That's right. While you try and alleviate hunger in a healthy way by chowing on carrots, most of what you are getting is water. Not that that's a bad thing. In comparison, on average we humans are made of a measly 60 percent water.

6. Carrots come in many colors

Forget orange. You can get carrots in other natural hues of white, yellow and a deep shade of purple, if you look for them. Funnily enough, the first documented carrots were actually purple or white in color. The orange vegetables we know today were developed after a genetic mutation caused purple carrots, which have a yellow-orange core, to lose their color and turn a solid orange. Given that carrots have approximately 20 species worldwide, it's not surprising they come in various shades.

7. Cooking carrots is better for you than eating raw carrots

As the most popular and widely grown member of the apiaceae family, you want to respect the vegetable. This is why you should get the most out of each bite by cooking them. This releases the hidden pockets of good-for-you beta-carotene. In fact, eating carrots raw only gives you three percent of this substance, but when you heat them up they release closer to 40 percent. So try these sweet vegetables puréed into soup, sliced thin onto a salad, braised in butter, baked, cooked until they are soft in a stew and stuffed into poultry.  Or, you can get funky with the root like chef Amanda Cohen does in her Manhattan restaurant Dirt Candy, though, she says, working with them isn't always easy. "Carrots are a blessing and a curse because they're super-versatile, but their sweet taste can easily overwhelm a dish," she says. "Because they're sweet, but also a little bitter, kind of like the way lemon is sweet but also sour, at Dirt Candy we've found that they're perfect for desserts, like our Carrot Meringue Pie." She adds that their indestructible texture also makes them a lot of fun, and that even if you grill a carrot for a long time, it will never turn mushy or lose shape. "That means we can grill them for ages," Cohen says. "Then, we shave them with a peeler, and get a deep, complex flavor, with a hint of sweetness and a chewy texture." 

8. Carrots contain the richest sources of beta-carotene

You may wonder why you care about beta-carotene. Well, here's the deal: This chemical is what gives fruits and vegetables a yellow-orange pigment that turns into vitamin A in our systems. While it won't make you see in the dark, beta-carotene does help with eyesight, as well as boost the immune system and promote healthy skin.

9. Carrots have seeds

Bet you never thought about that one as you chomp on a smooth stalk of this sweet-orange vegetable. But it's true. How else did you think they grew? You harvest the seeds from the tiny white flowers that grow out of the ground. Funnily enough, the carrot doesn't produce a traditional seed, but instead it's classified as a schizocarp, a dry fruit composed of multiple carpels that separate to release the seed inside. Researchers have even found that wild carrot seeds dating back about 5,000 years were discovered in Europe. Also, due to their aromatic qualities, the seeds have been used as a spice and in herbal medicine.

10. Carrots have sugar in them

Ha, and here you thought you were eating something healthy. Okay, well yes, you are, but carrots do contain four types of sugars  — sucrose, glucose, xylose and fructose. Luckily for you carb-a-phobes, despite the sugar they contain very little starch, so you can have your sweet vegetable without the carbs. Plus, even though they are on the saccharin side, you also get a whopping bunch of good-for-you nutrients including vitamins A, C, K and B6, manganese, calcium, lots of dietary fiber and potassium.

This post is brought to you by our friends at Whole Foods Market


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