A plant of the parsley family with feathery green leaves and an orange root that can be eaten raw or cooked. The most commonly found carrots generally have a long, narrow, cylindrical cone shape root, but they are also found in other varieties that may be thick and short in shape, or that are purple, yellow, or white in color. The carrot has a sweet flavor and is one of the most popular versatile root vegetables. Carrots may range in length from 2 inches to 2 or 3 feet but are generally 8 to 9 inches in length when harvested to sell as fresh market carrots. More mature carrots are used for processing. Carrots are high in sugar and fiber and are an excellent source of carotene, which gives the carrots their bright orange color. Carrots are also a good source of other nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, and folic acid.
How to use: Carrots can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw carrots are eaten as a snack, or an appetizer, and are sliced, chopped, or grated to add to salads. They can be cooked using many different methods, such as boiling, steaming, sautéing, roasting or grilling. When cooked, carrots are eaten as a side dish on their own or cooked with other vegetables. They are also often added to other dishes, such as stir fries, casseroles, quiches, omelets, soups, and stews. The sweet flavor of carrrots also makes them a popular ingredient in baking cakes, muffins, breads, and cookies.
At their best: Carrots are available all year round in food stores but when growing them, they do best in cool weather. Plant in early spring so they are ready to harvest before the hottest days of summer, or plant late summer after the hottest period and harvest in the fall.
How to buy: When selecting, look for carrots that are uniform in color from top to bottom and whose skin is smooth and free of cracks. The carrots may be slightly green at the crown but a dark coloring at the crown indicates that the carrots are getting old. Generally the carrots found readily available are long and slender but there are also varieties that are short and fat. Whatever variety is being purchased, all the carrots should be uniform in size, shape and color. When selecting carrots that still have the stems attached, select those that have fresh looking greens. Avoid carrots that have begun to sprout, that have blemishes, soft spots, or large green areas at the crown, and any that have become limp.
Storage: Carrots can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month if stored properly. To prevent condensation from forming, wrap the carrots in a paper towel and then place them in a bag in the refrigerator, or use a perforated plastic bag. Excess moisture will cause them to rot. If the carrots still have the greens attached, cut them off 2 inches above the crown to prevent them from drawing moisture out of the carrots. Do not store carrots next to ethylene gas producing fruits, such as apples and pears. The ethylene gas they release speeds up the ripening process of other fruits and vegetables. Carrots can also be stored unwashed and covered by sand. If stored in this manner in a dark, cool, well ventilated area, the carrots will last up to 5 or 6 months. They can also be left in the ground, covered with mulch, and used as needed until the ground begins to freeze. Carrots can also be peeled, cut up, blanched, and then frozen to preserve them for approximately a year.