The humble carrot gives life and colour to many dishes. As a favourite French bistro dish to accompany steak, delicate whole carrots are served glazed with butter and a touch of garlic. Carrots are versatile and can be served grated and raw to give a fresh lift to salads and sandwiches or chopped to give colour and bulk to winter casseroles.
Thousands of years ago, carrots were used in dishes for their leaves and seeds and not their roots. Wild red, black, yellow, white and purple carrots grew in Afghanistan in the 7th century. The Dutch first cultivated orange carrots. Carrots seeds reached Australia on the First Fleet in 1788 and were grown on Norfolk Island by convicts.
The French developed the long, tapered carrots that are similar to the ones available today as a favourite in their cuisine. Mirepoix is the classic French combination of onions, carrots and celery sautéed in butter or olive oil to form a flavoursome, colourful base for stocks, stews and sauces.
Growing carrots is a common school project in Australia, and generations of children have watched with excitement as the feathery leaves miraculously emerge from the earth.
In Australia, carrots are not usually sold by variety. You can buy ‘baby’ carrots (usually harvested early) or ‘mature’, larger carrots.
One common type of carrot is the Dutch carrot. These are small (5 to 8 cm) and sold in bunches with the leaves attached. Golf-ball carrots are also becoming popular in Australia. These are the size of a golf ball (or radish), full of flavour and sold with the leaves attached.
Some of the other types of carrots that might be available include Imperitor, Nantes, Nantes-Berlicium. These are usually a reddish colour and are cylindrical to cigar-shaped. The new variety Kurodo (or Koyo) is shorter than the common type of carrot that is usually available in the supermarket.
Why carrots are good to eat
- Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A), a crucial substance required for vision.
- They are a great source of folate, which is essential for the healthy development of the unborn baby in early pregnancy.
- Carrots are also a great source of dietary fibre, important for bowel health.
- Energy – 100 g of carrots supplies 130 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Carrots are grown for their roots, although you can also eat their leaves. They grow best in full sun and prefer a moderate climate and regular watering. Carrots grow better from seeds but seedlings may also be used. Seeds start to germinate in three to seven days and shoots start emerging between one and three weeks after planting.
Your carrots are mature and ready to harvest three or four months after planting the seeds. Baby carrots are harvested earlier and are the thinnings (they were removed to make room for other carrots to grow) of the main crop. Immature carrots are pale white or yellow and become orange as they mature.
If you pull out a carrot with a weird shape it means that it has struck a rock (or other obstacle) and it has attempted to grow around it.
Choose carrots that have a bright colour and fresh fern-like leaves that feel firm to the touch. Very bent, limp carrots with cracked or discoloured skin or those that are sprouting should not be selected.
Smaller sized carrots are generally tastier. Very large carrots may have been allowed to mature for too long and will probably have unpleasant-tasting woody centres.
How to store and keep carrots
Remove the tops (the leaves become slimy) and store carrots in the crisper section of your fridge. You can also store them in the dark in a well-ventilated cupboard. Use your carrots within five days of purchase.
How to use
- Add zing to your morning breakfast juice – blitz carrot, apple, ginger and lemon with some fresh mint leaves.
- Boil baby carrots and serve them simply, with a drizzle of honey.
- Make a carrot and walnut cake – blend cream cheese and mascarpone with icing sugar and butter for a decadent topping.
- To make a spicy soup entrée – boil carrots, potato and onion, add sautéed garlic, chilli, ginger and spices (try garam masala and Chinese five spice), then puree and garnish with coriander leaf.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Health & Human Services shall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.