During the winter months when fresh local produce is in limited supply, I’m thankful for produce staples like carrots. While we can’t grow this early season vegetable just yet, carrots are readily available all year long, which is one reason they are high on the popularity scale.
Carrots are a member of the Apiaceae family of aromatic flowering plants that also includes celery, parsnips, dill, and cilantro. While we are most accustomed to eating the main part of the plant, called the taproot, the leaves and stems are also edible and make an interesting addition to a salad. Wild carrots are believed to have originated in Persia (now Iran and Afghanistan) but did not look anything like the carrots we are familiar with today.
By the ninth or tenth century, carrots were selectively bred to improve flavor and tenderness while reducing bitterness and woodiness. By the fifteenth century, the plant was shared throughout Asia and Europe and eventually to North America by early settlers. Carrots are now a widely produced vegetable worldwide.
California produces over 85 percent of all carrots grown in the United States, with Michigan and Texas coming in next. The average carrot yield in 2020 was approximately 50,000 pounds per acre. Carrots are the sixth most popular fresh vegetable, with nearly eight pounds per person consumed in 2020. There was an upsurge in carrot consumption in the mid 80’s with the introduction of ‘baby cut’ carrots, which are actually large carrots that are cut and polished into smaller pieces. Actual ‘baby carrots’ are harvested when they are very young and small. Baby-cut carrot products have been the fastest growing segment of the carrot industry since the early 1990s and are among the most popular produce items purchased.
While we are most familiar with orange carrots, they can also be found in many other colors including yellow, purple, red and white. The color, as well as growing environment and level of maturity can impact the flavor of carrots, producing flavors ranging from sweet to bitter to earthy. Color can also impact the nutrient profile of carrots. Beta carotene is the most familiar nutrient that is found in deep orange vegetables.
Yellow carrots also contain beta carotene as well as lutein, both of with are beneficial to eye health. Red carrots provide biotin, fiber, potassium, vitamins K, B6 and C, and a trace element called molybdenum, an essential mineral like iron. This important mineral activates key enzymes in your body that helps rid itself of certain toxins.
Purple carrots have a carotenoid called anthocyanin, which researchers are studying its ability to treat inflammation and obesity. White carrots, while devoid of color and beta carotene, they are not devoid of nutrition and still provide fiber to aid digestion.
Carrots have always been a favorite at my house, either raw as a snack, in a salad, or along side a pot roast with potatoes and onions. They are also great roasted on their own or in a mix of other root vegetables, like the recipe below. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness and earthy flavors of many root vegetables, that is enhanced with simple herbs for an easy side dish that complements any kind of protein.
Denise Sullivan is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist for MU Extension in the Urban West Region, serving Jackson and Platte Counties. For research-based nutrition and food safety information and programs, visit https://extension.missouri.edu/counties/urban-west-region.
MU Extension is a partnership of the University of Missouri campuses, Lincoln University, the people of Missouri through county extension councils, and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Visit our website at: https://extension.missouri.edu/counties/urban-west-region
Simple Roasted Root Vegetables
(Makes 5 servings)
5 cups vegetables, cut into uniform sized pieces (carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Nutrition information: Calories: 90, Total Fat: 3g, Saturated Fat: 0g, Sodium: 97mg, Carbohydrates: 16g, Fiber: 2g, Protein: 2g
Recipe from Spend Smart Eat Smart, Iowa State University, analyzed by verywellfit.com