The Carrot – zanahoria – is probably one of the most well known vegetable which can be eaten both raw and cooked. The common Carrot is orange in colour and is conical in shape. The most commonly eaten part is the taproot, although the fine green leaves can also be eaten.
The Carrot is native to Europe and Southwestern Asia and in early use Carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds, not their roots. Cultivated Carrots appeared in China in the 14th century and in Japan in the 18th century.
Carrots grow best in full sun, but they do tolerate some shade. In order to avoid growing deformed Carrots it is better to plant them in loose soil, free from rocks. They thrive in raised garden beds. High nitrogen levels should be avoided, as this will cause the vegetables to become hairy and misshapen. Carrots take around four months to mature and it is suggested that they are sown from mid-February to July. It is a variable biennial plant, usually growing up to 1 metre tall and flowering from June to August. The umbels are claret-coloured or pale pink before they open, then bright white and rounded when in full flower. There are several diseases that can reduce the yield and market value of Carrots. The most devastating Carrot disease is leaf blight, which has been known to eradicate entire crops.
Carrots are root vegetables, usually orange in colour, although purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist and they should have a crisp texture when fresh. Almost half the world’s Carrots are grown in China. Since the late 1980s, Baby Carrots or mini-carrots have been a popular ready-to-eat snack food available in many supermarkets, encouraging youngsters to eat more vegetables.
Carotene is responsible for the orange colour of carrots and an excess of Carrots can cause the skin to turn orange. Carrot extracts are often used by poultry producers to improve animal skin and alter the colour of egg yolk. It is often joked that eating Carrots help you to see in the dark, but this appears to stem from World War II when the British gunners managed to shoot many German planes down at night and Carrots were readily available as they were one of the vegetables not rationed.
Carrots are incredibly versatile and although can be eaten raw in salads etc, they can be cooked in a variety of ways. Boiled Carrots now seem to be the least popular way of cooking this popular vegetable as many people now like their vegetables ‘al dente’. They can be boiled, fried, steamed and chopped and eaten either on their own or added to soups and stews as well as baby food and pet food. Carrots are used in various cuisines including Indian either as a savoury addition to a meal, or in desserts and cakes. The sweetness of Carrots allows the vegetable to be used in some fruit-like roles. Grated Carrot is used in Carrot Cakes, as well as Carrot Pudding, an old English dish thought to have originated in the early 19th century. Carrots can also be used with fruits in jam and preserves. Carrot Juice is also widely marketed as a health drink, either alone or blended with other fruits and vegetables.
Carrots can be stored for several months in the refrigerator or over winter in a moist, cool place. For long term storage, unwashed Carrots can be placed in a bucket between layers of sand, a 50/50 mix of sand and wood shavings, or in soil at a temperature of 0-5ºC.