|Daucus carota subsp. sativus
(Hoffm.) Schübl. & G. Martens
The carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus; etymology: from Late Latin carōta, from Greek καρότον karōton, originally from the Indo-European root ker- (horn), due to its horn-like shape) is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is a taproot, although the greens are edible as well. It is a domesticated form of the wild carrot Daucus carota, native to Europe and southwestern Asia. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that world production of carrots and turnips (these plants are combined by the FAO for reporting purposes) for calendar year 2011 was almost 35.658 million tonnes. Almost half were grown in China.
It is a biennial plant that grows a rosette of leaves in the spring and summer, while building up the stout taproot, which stores large amounts of sugars for the plant to flower in the second year. The flowering stem grows to 60–200 cm (20–80 in) tall, with an umbel of white flowers that produce a fruit called a mericarp by botanists, which is a type of schizocarp.
The wild ancestors of the carrot are likely to have come from Iran and Afghanistan, which remain the centre of diversity of Daucus carota, the wild carrot. Selective breeding over the centuries of a naturally occurring subspecies of the wild carrot, Daucus carota subsp. sativus, to reduce bitterness, increase sweetness and minimise the woody core, has produced the familiar garden vegetable.
In early use, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds, not their roots. Carrot seeds have been found in Switzerland and Southern Germany dating to 2000–3000 BC. Some relatives of the carrot are still grown for their leaves and seeds, such as parsley, fennel, dill and cumin. The first mention of the root in classical sources is in the 1st century. The modern carrot originated in Afghanistan about 1100 years ago. It appears to have been introduced to Europe via Spain by the Moors in the 8th century. The 12th-century Arab Andalusian agriculturist, Ibn al-'Awwam, describes both red and yellow carrots; Simeon Seth also mentions both colours in the 11th century. Cultivated carrots appeared in China in the 14th century, and in Japan in the 18th century. Orange-coloured carrots appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century. These, the modern carrots, were intended by the antiquary John Aubrey (1626–1697) when he noted in his memoranda "Carrots were first sown at Beckington in Somersetshire Some very old Man there [in 1668] did remember their first bringing hither." European settlers introduced the carrot to the United States in the 17th century.
Polyacetylenes can be found in Apiaceae vegetables like carrots where they show cytotoxic activities. Falcarinol and falcarindiol (cis-heptadeca-1,9-diene-4,6-diyne-3,8-diol) are such compounds. This latter compound shows antifungal activity towards Mycocentrospora acerina and Cladosporium cladosporioides. Falcarindiol is the main compound responsible for bitterness in carrots.
Other compounds such as 6-hydroxymellein, 6-methoxymellein, eugenin, 2,4,5-trimethoxybenzaldehyde (gazarin) or (Z)-3-acetoxy-heptadeca-1,9-diene-4,6-diin-8-ol (falcarindiol 3-acetate) can also be found in carrot.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||173 kJ (41 kcal)|
|- Sugars||4.7 g|
|- Dietary fibre||2.8 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||835 μg (104%)|
|- beta-carotene||8285 μg (77%)|
|- lutein and zeaxanthin||256 μg|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.066 mg (6%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.058 mg (5%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||0.983 mg (7%)|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||0.273 mg (5%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.138 mg (11%)|
|Folate (vit. B9)||19 μg (5%)|
|Vitamin C||5.9 mg (7%)|
|Vitamin E||0.66 mg (4%)|
|Calcium||33 mg (3%)|
|Iron||0.3 mg (2%)|
|Magnesium||12 mg (3%)|
|Manganese||0.143 mg (7%)|
|Phosphorus||35 mg (5%)|
|Potassium||320 mg (7%)|
|Sodium||69 mg (5%)|
|Zinc||0.24 mg (3%)|
|Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Most carrot cultivars are about 88% water, 7% sugar, 1% protein, 1% fibre, 1% ash, and 0.2% fat. The fibre comprises mostly cellulose, with smaller proportions of hemicellulose and lignin. Carrots contain almost no starch. Free sugars in carrot include sucrose, glucose, xylose and fructose. Nitrite and nitrate contents are about 40 and 0.41 milligrams per 100 grams (fresh), respectively. Most of the taste of the vegetable is due to glutamic acid and other free amino acids. Other acids present in trace amounts include succinic acid, α-ketoglutaric acid, lactic acid and glycolic acid; the major phenolic acid is caffeic acid.
The carrot gets its characteristic and bright orange colour from β-carotene, and lesser amounts of α-carotene and γ-carotene. α and β-carotenes are partly metabolised into vitamin A in humans. β-carotene is the predominant carotenoid, although there are lesser amounts of α-carotene and γ-carotene. There are typically between 6000 and 54,000 micrograms of carotenoids per 100 grams of carrot root. Carrot extracts are used by poultry producers to improve animal skin and alter the colour of egg yolk. Massive overconsumption of carrots can cause carotenosis, a benign condition in which the skin turns orange. Carrots are also rich in antioxidants and minerals. Ethnomedically, the roots are used to as an emmenagogue (to increase blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus), a carminative (to reduce flatulence), to treat digestive problems, intestinal parasites, and tonsillitis or constipation.
Lack of vitamin A can cause poor vision, including night vision, and these can be restored by adding vitamin A to the diet. An urban legend states that eating large quantities of carrots will allow one to see in the dark. This myth developed from stories about British gunners in World War II, who were able to shoot down German planes at night. The rumour arose during the Battle of Britain when the RAF circulated a story about their pilots' carrot consumption in an attempt to cover up the discovery and effective use of radar technologies in engaging enemy planes, as well as the use of red light (which does not destroy night vision) in aircraft instruments. It reinforced existing German beliefs, and helped to encourage Britons who were trying to improve their night vision during the blackout to grow and eat the vegetable, which was not rationed like most other foodstuffs. A "Dr. Carrot" advertising campaign encouraged its consumption.
Methods of consumption and uses
Carrots can be eaten in a variety of ways. Only 3% of the β-carotene in raw carrots is released during digestion: this can be improved to 39% by pulping, cooking and adding cooking oil. Alternatively they may be chopped and boiled, fried or steamed, and cooked in soups and stews, as well as baby and pet foods. A well-known dish is carrots julienne. The greens are edible as a leaf vegetable, but are only occasionally eaten by humans. When used for this purpose, they are harvested young in high-density plantings, before significant root development, and typically used stir-fried, or in salads. Together with onion and celery, carrots are one of the primary vegetables used in a mirepoix to make various broths.
In India carrots are used in a variety of ways, as salads or as vegetables added to spicy rice or daal dishes. A popular variation in north India is the Gajar Ka Halwa carrot dessert, which has carrots grated and cooked in milk until the whole mixture is solid, after which nuts and butter are added. Carrot salads are usually made with grated carrots in western parts with a seasoning of mustard seeds and green chillies popped in hot oil, while adding carrots to rice usually is in julienne shape.
The variety of carrot found in north India is rare everywhere except in Central Asia and other contiguous regions, and is now growing in popularity in larger cosmopolitan cities in South India. The north Indian carrot is pink-red comparable to plum or raspberry or deep red apple in colour (without a touch of yellow or blue) while most other carrot varieties in the world vary from orange to yellow in colour, comparable to hallowe'en pumpkins.
Since the late 1980s, baby carrots or mini-carrots (carrots that have been peeled and cut into uniform cylinders) have been a popular ready-to-eat snack food available in many supermarkets. Carrots are puréed and used as baby food, dehydrated to make chips, flakes, and powder, and thinly sliced and deep-fried, like potato chips.
The sweetness of carrots allows the vegetable to be used in some fruit-like roles. Grated carrots are used in carrot cakes, as well as carrot puddings, an old English dish thought to have originated in the early 19th century. Carrots can also be used alone or with fruits in jam and preserves. Carrot juice is also widely marketed, especially as a health drink, either stand-alone or blended with fruits and other vegetables.
Carrots are useful companion plants for gardeners. There is experimental evidence that growing it intercropped with tomatoes increases tomato production. If left to flower, it (like any umbellifer) attracts predatory wasps that kill many garden pests.
Carrots grow best in full sun but 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. The seeds, which are 1–3 mm in diameter, should be sown about 2 cm deep. Carrots take around four months to mature and it is suggested that carrot seeds are sown from mid-February to July.
There are several diseases that can reduce the yield and market market of carrots. The most devastating carrot disease is Alternaria leaf blight, which has been known to eradicate entire crops. A bacterial leaf blight caused by Xanthomonas campestris can also be destructive in warm, humid areas. Root knot nematodes (Meloidogyne species) can cause stubby or forked roots, or galls. Cavity spot, caused by the oomycetes Pythium violae and Pythium sulcatum, results in irregularly shaped, depressed lesions on the taproots.
Carrot cultivars can be grouped into two broad classes, eastern carrots and western carrots. More recently, a number of novelty cultivars have been bred for particular characteristics.
Eastern carrots were domesticated in Central Asia, probably in modern-day Iran and Afghanistan in the 10th century, or possibly earlier. Specimens of the eastern carrot that survive to the present day are commonly purple or yellow, and often have branched roots. The purple colour common in these carrots comes from anthocyanin pigments.
The western carrot emerged in the Netherlands in the 17th century, its orange colour making it popular in those countries as an emblem of the House of Orange and the struggle for Dutch independence. The orange colour results from abundant carotenes in these cultivars.
Western carrot cultivars are commonly classified by their root shape:
- Chantenay carrots are shorter than other cultivars, but have greater girth, sometimes growing up to 8 centimetres (3 in) in diameter. They have broad shoulders and taper towards a blunt, rounded tip. They are most commonly diced for use in canned or prepared foods.
- Danvers carrots have a conical shape, having well-defined shoulders and tapering to a point at the tip. They are somewhat shorter than Imperator cultivars, but more tolerant of heavy soil. Danvers cultivars are often puréed as baby food. They were developed in 1871 in Danvers, Massachusetts.
One particular variety lacks the usual orange pigment from carotenes, owing its white colour to a recessive gene for tocopherol (vitamin E). Derived from Daucus carota L. and patented at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the variety is intended to supplement the dietary intake of Vitamin E.
Carrots can be selectively bred to produce different colours.
Carrot is one of the top-ten most economically important vegetables crops in the world. In 2011, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 35.658 million tonnes of carrots and turnips were produced worldwide for human consumption, grown on 1,184,000 hectares (2,926,000 acres). With 16.233 million tonnes, China was by far the largest producer and accounted for 45.5% of the global output, followed by Russia (1.735 million tonnes), the United States (1.342), Uzbekistan (1.222), Poland (0.887), Ukraine (0.864), and the United Kingdom (0.694). About 61% of world carrot production occurred in Asia, followed by the Europe (24.2%) and the Americas (North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean) (9.7%). Less than 4% of the world's 2011 total was produced in Africa. Global production has increased from 21.4 million tonnes in 2000, 13.7 million tonnes in 1990, 10.4 million tonnes in 1980, and 7.85 million tonnes in 1970. The rate of increase in the global production of carrots has been greater than the world's population growth rate, and greater than the overall increase in world vegetable production. Europe was traditionally the major centre of production, but was overtaken by Asia in 1997. The growth in global production is largely the result of increases in production area, rather than average yield. Modest improvements in the latter can be attributed to optimised agricultural practices, the development of better cultivars (including hybrids), and increased farm mechanisation.
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. A temperature range of 32 to 40°F (0 to 5°C) is best.
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- World Carrot Museum
- Carrot and Garlic Genetics - diverse information on carrots, with links to more (USDA)
- "Carrots - Nutritional Information". About.com.