The word carrot is used for both the whole plant and its more or less elongated tuberous root, which is eaten as a vegetable. Carrots are grown in all of the planet's temperate zones.
They originated in Asia Minor (Turkey), where they grew wild. Ancient people ate carrots mainly for their ability to improve sight, but this vegetable was not really fully appreciated. Pliny referred to it by the name pasticana gallica (food for Gauls). This name still lives on in certain regions of France, where « pastenade » is the word for carrot. The carrot became cultivated in around the 10th century in Central Asia. It was often purple or yellow. In the 13th century in Western Europe, the carrot appears to have been used as an aromatic. It began to be cultivated as a vegetable in the 15th century, when it was mainly yellow. The orange carrot appeared in the 16th century, the result of a cross between the yellow and red carrots made by the Dutch, who wanted to show their loyalty to the House of Orange, a protestant principality in France. It quickly supplanted all the other varieties.
The European carrot was taken to the Americas during the second half of the 16th century, probably in 1565. Although it was quickly adopted by the native American peoples, it only became popular in the United States in the early 20th century, after the discovery of carotene. There it is now one of the most widely grown vegetables as a result of the high demand by Americans for carrot juice.
Fresh carrots can be bought in bunches or loose by weight. They are found canned in brine (baby carrots). They can be bought frozen in rounds, julienne, sticks, or whole, and as a puree packed as blocks. They can also be bought in juice form: in cartons, bottles, or frozen. Shredded carrots are also sold by the bag (packed under a controlled atmosphere). Whatever the variety, a carrot should always be firm, stiff, smooth, and evenly colored. New carrots are the most tender. Their tops should be very green and slightly moist.
Carrots can be boiled, steamed, or braised. Carrot tops can be fried or used in soup.
Carrots can be eaten raw (the smallest ones whole, and the larger ones thinly sliced, shredded, or as sticks) or cooked (boiled, steamed, etc.). They are suitable for soups, purees, pies, cakes, tarts, and soufflés, on their own or combined with other vegetables. They are one of the ingredients in countless hot pots, stuffings, etc. They are used to flavor marinades, gravies, stocks, and broths. Carrot juice is made using a centrifugal juicer. Carrots are made into jam in Portugal.
New and early season carrots can be stored for up to two days in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp cloth. Others can be easily stored for one week or longer if protected from light and moisture. They can be frozen after blanching.
Despite their sweet taste, carrots have a low carbohydrate content, and therefore few calories. They are exceptionally rich in antioxidant carotenoids and precursors of vitamin A. They also provide dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, as the result of intensive farming, they are unfortunately high in nitrates, hence the interest in organically grown ones.
There are more than 500 varieties of carrots around the world. They are distinguished by their size (short, semi-long, and long), their shape (conical, cylindrical, even round), and their color (orange, yellow, white, or purple). New carrots are whole carrots harvested before they are fully ripe. These are sold in bunches. Among the French varieties are Nantaise, Touchon, Demi-longue de Chantenay, Rouge demi-courte obtuse de Guérande, Rouge demi-longue de La Halle, Colmar, Long Lisse de Meaux, Rouge longue de Frise or Saint-Valéry, White Belgian (Blanche à collet vert), Jaune du Doubs, and the sand carrot, of which the Créances carrot has Label Rouge status.
The best-known American varieties are Avenger, Caropak, Legend, Navajo, Flame, and Neptune carrots. There are many Japanese varieties, among which are Kuroda and Red Samurai. Carrots are found in French markets throughout the year. April through July: new carrots, Paris Market carrots (round or slightly elongated). They mainly come from the Landes and Loire Valley regions; May through October: “Seasonal” carrots, grown in greenhouses (May/June) and outdoors (June/October); Fall and winter: Carrots meant for storage, mostly produced in the western areas of France and the Aquitaine region.