A baby carrot is a carrot harvested before reaching maturity and sold at that smaller size. A baby-cut carrot is a small piece cut from a larger carrot; baby-cut carrots are often marketed as "baby carrots", leading to potential confusion.
The immature roots of the carrot plant are sometimes harvested simply as the result of crop thinning, but are also grown to this size as a specialty crop. Certain cultivars of carrots have been bred to be used at the "baby" stage. One such cultivar is 'Amsterdam Forcing'. This process was developed at Beechnut Farms, bought by Zellwin Farms. These farms originally developed food for World War II, but wanted to sell food for civilians. A team of two led the research. According to Dole, baby carrots are sweeter and more tender than full-grown carrots.
In 2006, nearly three-quarters of the fresh "baby-cut" carrots produced in the United States came from Bakersfield, California. Bolthouse Farms and Grimmway Farms are the world's two largest growers, processors, and shippers of "baby-cut" carrots.
To make "baby-cut" carrots, large carrots are put into a machine and cut into two-inch (51 mm) sections, then abraded (scraped) down to size, their ends rounded by the same process.
- In the field, two-story carrot harvesters use long metal prongs to open up the soil, while rubber belts grab the green tops and pull. The carrots ride up the belts to the top of the picker, where an automated cutter snips off the greens.
- They are trucked to the processing plant, where they are put in icy water to bring their temperature down to 3 °C (37 °F) to inhibit spoiling.
- They are sorted by thickness. Thin carrots continue on the processing line; the others will be used as whole carrots, juice, or cattle feed. An inspector looks for rocks, debris or malformed carrots that slip through.
- The carrots are shaped into two-inch (51 mm) pieces by automated cutters. An optical sorter discards any piece that has green on it.
- The pieces are pumped through pipes to the peeling tanks. The peelers rotate, scraping the skin off the carrots. There are two stages: an initial rough peel and then a final "polishing."
- To reduce microbial contamination, "baby-cut" carrots may be treated with small amounts of chlorine. Those that are so treated will be subsequently rinsed with potable water to remove the excess chlorine before being packaged. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the use of chlorine as an antimicrobial treatment (similar to the chlorination of drinking water) is a current accepted practice in the processing for all fresh-cut ready-to-eat vegetables.
- The carrots are weighed and bagged by an automated scale and packager, then placed in cold storage until they are shipped.
The white blush sometimes visible on the surface of "baby-cut" carrots is caused by dehydration of the cut surface. "Baby-cut" carrots are more prone to develop this because their entire surface area is a cut surface. Low-temperature, high-humidity storage can minimize the white appearance.
In September 2010, a marketing initiative was launched by a group of nearly 50 carrot producers led by Bolthouse Farms (calling themselves "A Bunch of Carrot Farmers") that sought to promote baby-cut carrots as an alternative to junk food. The campaign mimicked tactics typically employed by snack food marketers, including snack-food-like packaging; futuristic, sexual, and extreme sports-themed TV commercials; carrot vending machines in schools; and an iPhone game and website.
- "Baby Carrots". Dole Europe. Archived from the original on May 21, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2009.
- Weise, Elizabeth (August 11, 2004). "Digging the baby carrot". USA Today. Archived from the original on March 20, 2014. Retrieved March 20, 2014.
- McGray, Douglas (March 22, 2011). "How Carrots Became The New Junk Food". Fast Company.
- Mikkelson, Barbara. "Carrot and Shtick". Snopes.com. Retrieved November 2, 2013.
- "Code of Practice for Minimally Processed Ready-to-Eat Fruit and Vegetables". Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
- Horvitz, Bruce (September 3, 2010). "Baby Carrots Take On Junk Food with Hip Marketing Campaign". USAToday.