Real Food Encyclopedia | Carrot

Carrots (Daucus carota) are culinarily best known for their taproot, which can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled, mashed, juiced or any other style you can think of. They maintain their flavor well when cooked — carrots are a key ingredient in cooking bases like French mirepoix and Italian soffritto — and, because of their high sugar content, are also used in desserts around the world. We often think of them as orange, a color that indicates their high levels of beta-carotene. But carrots can also be yellow, purple, red or multicolor — or even black or white.

The plants were initially cultivated not for their root, but for their aromatic leaves and seeds. Carrots were first grown for their roots before the 10th century CE, in what is now Iran or Afghanistan. From there, they spread east across Asia, then to Al-Andalus (modern-day Spain) during the Muslim conquest and on to the rest of Europe.

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Fun facts about carrots:

  • The now-ubiquitous orange carrot was likely first bred by the Dutch around the 17th century. According to a popular (and likely false) story, they were considered a symbol of the House of Orange during the fight for Dutch independence from Spain.
  • Did your mom ever tell you that eating carrots would help you see in the dark? Beta-carotene is good for vision, but this messaging actually derives from British WWII propaganda.
  • Baby carrots are not babies, but are instead whittled down to that shape from a carrot variety specially bred to grow long and straight. (This variety also contains more sugar.)

What to look for when buying carrots

Carrots vary in color as well as in size, from tiny varieties (like the round Paris Market carrot) to giant specimens topping out at three to four inches in diameter. The carrot roots should be firm, never limp, and free of mushy spots or brown-black blemishes. Smaller carrots tend to be sweeter and juicier.

All carrots have delicate, feathery greens, although if you’re purchasing carrots already bagged, the highly perishable tops have been removed for you. If your carrots have their greens attached, look for bright leaves with no wilting or yellowing.

Sustainability of carrots

According to 2021 data, more than 85 percent of carrots grown in the U.S. come from California. In 2023, residents of the Cuyama valley called for a boycott after a lawsuit from Grimmway Farms and Bolthouse Farms, both world leaders in carrot production, over water use.


Carrots make the “Clean 15” in the Environmental Working Group’s 2023 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, ranking 32nd of 46 fruits and vegetables tested for pesticide load. If you’re concerned, buy organic or pick up a bunch of carrots from your local farmer and ask about their growing methods. (Local carrots tend to taste better, too.)


Carrots are available starting in mid-late summer (from early spring plantings) through the late fall. They also do well in cold storage for winter, making them available essentially year-round, even from smaller producers.


2021 data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which groups together carrots and turnips, shows China as by far the world leader in production, with Uzbekistan, the U.S. and Germany also leading carrot producers. After California, Michigan and Texas lead the U.S. in carrot cultivation. The U.S. also imports some carrots from Mexico and Canada.

Eating carrots


Carrot greens will only keep for a day or two. Remove them immediately after you get home and store separately by wrapping the greens in a paper towel and placing in a zip-top bag in your crisper drawer. Carrot roots, on the other hand, are champions at surviving long-term: Stored loose or in a paper bag, most will keep in the crisper for at least a month.

Cooking With Less Waste


Carrots are an integral part of many cultures’ cooking, often as part of a flavor base for dishes. They are used liberally in South Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, Eastern and Western European and many other cuisines.

Roasting carrots plays up their natural sweetness (check out this roasted carrot and avocado salad). Carrots are also wonderful pureed into soup (like this simple Moroccan carrot soup) or made into oven-baked “fries.” But a favorite way to serve them, inspired by the great Marcella Hazan, is raw: coarsely grated, tossed with the juice of half a lemon, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.

Don’t toss those carrot tops, either! They can be added to veggie stocks and soups, and the leaves can be made into a carrot-top pesto, perfect for pasta or to spoon over roasted carrots.

Carrots can also be used for sweet recipes. Historically, carrots were often used as a sugar substitute because of their natural sugar content; it’s likely that carrot cake descended from medieval carrot puddings. Some of the first recipes for carrot cake as we know it were published in the 19th century. In India, carrots are used to make a sweet pudding called gajara ka halwa, often prepared for holidays.


Carrots preserve beautifully in a bunch of different ways, whether you’re making carrot jam or pickled carrots (Moroccan-styleMexican-styleAmerican-style…take your pick). Carrots can also be easily canned and frozen.


Carrots are loaded with beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A in the body: One serving provides well over the recommended daily value. (Vitamin A is important for a lot of things, including vision, immune function and reproduction.) Cooking carrots makes the beta-carotene more bioavailable. These vegetables also contain good amounts of Vitamin K, Vitamin B6 and fiber.

Top photo by katrinshine/Adobe Stock.