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A carrot is an edible tuber with a feathery spray of leafy greens which makes it readily identifiable to gardeners. While the majority of carrots do come in a rich and distinctive orange color, white, yellow, red, and purple varieties have also been cultivated. The carrot is among the most widely grown and popular vegetables in the world, and is eaten in a number of ways, cooked and raw. In addition to being abundantly available at most grocery stores, carrots can also be easily grown at home in temperate climates.
The carrot's scientific name is Daucus carota, and the plant is probably originally native to Asia. Wild relatives of the carrot live in abundance throughout Asia and Asia minor, and evidence suggests that the carrot has been cultivated for food for thousands of years. Like other plants in the parsley family, the carrot has an intense flavor when it is young, although it will turn slightly woody with age.
The rich orange color of carrots comes from beta carotene, which also happens to be very good for optical health. The yellow to orange pigment in beta carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A, making carrots an excellent source of this useful vitamin. When eaten in excess, beta carotene can actually pigment the skin, giving a person an orange to yellowish cast.
In addition to the root, carrot greens are also edible. They are spicy and a bit intense, so some people use carrot greens as a garnish rather than a principle dish. The roots, on the other hand, can be eaten in an assortment of things from raw juices to honey glazed cooked carrots. They keep well in a root cellar, or carrots can be canned, pickled, or dried. Younger carrots are more tender and flavorful, and they can be eaten whole. Older carrots should be peeled, and the woody core may need to be removed as well.
Carrots grow well in rich soil in full sun. Start by tilling the soil and integrating compost and organic material to loosen the soil, making it easier for carrots to put down strong roots. Plant the seeds a few weeks before the last frost, watering thoroughly so that they get a good start. Thin the young carrots as they grow, and water them thoroughly once a week. Harvest as they start to turn orange, and stagger your plantings if you want a consistent supply of carrots. Make sure that the carrots stay underground while growing, which will keep them looking orange and tasting sweet.