Carrots are a beloved root vegetable featured in cuisines from all over the world. We love this vegetable’s sweetness and bright colors. They’re delicious in savory foods — soups, stews, salads — and desserts, such as carrot cake. Learn how to chop carrots, buy them, and store properly for freshness.
We eat domesticated carrots that originated from the wild carrot, which first appeared in Europe and Southwestern Asia (evidence points to Persia, around modern-day Iran and Afghanistan). The domesticated carrot is bred to be larger, sweeter, less bitter, and less woody compared to its original wild cousins.
Carrots are widely used in cuisines from all over the world. Stocking a bag of fresh carrots is an important part of your everyday pantry. Let’s learn more about how we can cook with them and how to store them for freshness.
What are carrots?
What we call carrot today is the taproot of the carrot plant. Thousands of years ago, carrots were initially cultivated for the aromatic leaves and seeds (as are cilantro and parsley). While there are a few recipes using carrot seeds as a spice or making a salad using carrot leaves, most recipes focus on cooking the carrot taproot.
Carrots come in different colors:
- Orange (the most common color)
There are many varieties of carrots, including the Imperator, Chantenay, Cello, Danvers, and Nantes types plus hybrids. The Imperator-hybrid is the most common commercial carrots, and California grows the majority of carrots sold in the U.S. Nantes-type carrots come from Europe and are increasing in popularity because they are high in sugar. But they don’t last as long.
Rooting for you
What’s the deal with baby carrots?
In 1986, farmer Mike Yurosek was frustrated with throwing out half of his carrot harvest because his misshapen carrots were too ugly for the grocery store. After much experimentation, Mike carved his first carrot into the smooth, uniform, 2-inch “baby-cut” carrots that most Americans know and love today.
Since Mike’s discovery, the average American has doubled her consumption of carrots. Baby carrots now account for over half of all supermarket sales of fresh-cut vegetables.
The surge in popularity of baby carrots is largely thanks to their convenience. You simply open a package, and they’re ready to eat.
How to prep carrots
If your carrots still have leaves, trim them. You can discard the leaves or set them aside for another use.
Young carrots harvested about 2 to 3 months after planting have thin skins and tender taproots that are perfect for eating raw. You can scrub the skin with a vegetable brush, a sponge, or your hands to remove the dirt. No need to peel them.
TIP: Alex uses the rough scouring side of a kitchen sponge to clean the skin, which removes dirt, hair-thin roots, and odd bumps.
Older carrots, especially bulk carrots, have thicker skin, which contains a lot of nutrients but may provide an undesirable rougher texture. When I serve older carrots raw, I peel them.
I reserve the mature carrots, especially if they’re a tad bitter, for soups, stews, and roasting where you can’t tell the difference as much.
How to cut carrots
Chopping carrots can be fun if you want to practice your knife skills on a rainy day. But as busy home cooks, we don’t have time to fuss around with tourné and batonnet cuts. Let’s leave these fancy French cuts to Michelin-rated restaurants.
Instead, we’ll cover the most pragmatic cuts you will need to make delicious meals at home. The majority of recipes on the Internet will instruct you to make one of these cuts.
From the largest to the finest cut style:
- Whole: The ideal size for roasting.
- Chunks: The carrot is roughly chopped into chunks of various sizes. Chunky cuts can be useful for roasting carrots or cutting the carrot down before you throw them into the blender for juicing or the food processor for grating.
- Oblique/roll cut: This 45º cut is beautiful, which makes it appealing for topping salads. It has more surface area, which makes it cook faster and is ideal for glazing.
- Rounds/Discs: Useful for stir frying, braising, and “lazy dicing”. Lazy dicing is when you are making soup and don’t want to bother with julienne cuts so you leave the carrots as discs 😆.
- Diagonals: Similar to rounds with a prettier appearance. Diagonals can be used in the same ways as rounds/discs. This cut is the first step to achieve the julienne cut.
- Baton/plank: Useful for stir frying and the perfect-sized carrot stick for crudité and lunch boxes. This is also a great size for boiling and steaming.
- Spiralized: Terrific for salads and imitating noodles.
- Diced: Diced carrots can range from large dices to small dices. The smaller the size the faster the carrots cook. Diced carrots are one of the most common cuts and work for most recipes from mirepoix to salads to soups to stews to sauces.
- Julienne: Peeled carrots chopped into matchstick-sized cuts are popular for topping salads, pickling, sautéing. The main benefit of the julienne cut is its elegant presentation.
- Grated/shredded: Ideal for carrot salad and desserts like carrot cake. I like to use grated carrots as a garnish on soups, roasts, and noodles, which can benefit from a pop of color.
- Juiced: You can juice carrots and enjoy carrot juice straight or mix it with your smoothies.
NOTE: The smaller the carrot cut the faster it cooks. Often smaller cuts are more elegant too. However, the tradeoff is the additional time and effort required to cut carrots smaller. It’s your choice to decide which cut is right for you. Consider the recipe’s requirements alongside your time and energy levels.
How to eat raw carrots
Raw carrots can taste tender, juicy, and sweet. The younger the carrots, the better they taste raw. Mature carrots can have a woody core with a touch of bitterness. Save these older carrots for stewing and soups.
Check out this spicy coleslaw recipe with shredded cabbage and carrots — a delicious way to enjoy raw carrots.
Is it safe to eat raw carrots?
While there have been incidences of foodborne illnesses from carrots, many of the cases come from canned carrots (improper canning leading to botulism) or store-bought carrot juice. If you’re worried about the safety of eating raw carrots, prepare carrot juice at home and wash your carrots thoroughly. Or parboil the carrots — even blanching will kill germs while keeping the carrots crunchy.
Some nutrients and antioxidants are more available from cooking because heat breaks down the tough cell walls and aids digestion, according to an article from Scientific American.
NOTE: If you’re making a carrot salad, it’s nice to have a range of carrot colors for visual interest.
How to cook with carrot
Cooked carrots can taste sweeter than raw carrots. Carrots are versatile vegetables that can be cooked in numerous ways depending on your mood and time available:
- Boiled: Boil carrots cut into batons until tender and serve them with butter and salt
- Steamed: Toss steamed carrots with fresh herbs and olive oil
- Stir fried
- Glazed: Add parboiled carrots to butter, salt, ginger, and maple syrup in a pan over medium heat. Cook until reduced and the carrots are soft and caramelized.
- Braised (along with other aromatics)
Need more inspiration? Here are the different ways you can cook carrots for dinner tonight:
- Carrot juice (carrot and orange juice)
- Carrot and ginger juice
- Green smoothie
- Berry smoothie
- Carrot and whiskey cocktail
- Savory Dishes
- Carrot cake & cupcakes
- Indian carrot and cardamom pudding (gajar ka halwa)
- Carrot ice cream
Carrots work well with
- Chicken (chicken stir fry)
- Red meat (braised beef, stir-fried lamb)
- Spices: Cumin, cardamom, ginger, curry, rosemary, thyme
- Herbs: lemongrass, cilantro, mint
- Miso (ginger-miso dressing)
- Dips: Hummus, smoked salmon dip, garlic cream cheese and herb dip
- Garlic (garlic lemon salad dressing)
- Green onion
- Broccoli (broccoli and carrot slaw, vegetable stir fry)
- Cabbage (coleslaw)
- Bean sprouts
- Snow peas and sugar snap peas
- Honey & maple syrup (glazed carrots)
- Noodles (stir-fried noodles, noodle soup)
- Fried rice
- Raisins & sultanas (carrot and raisin salad, carrot cake)
Recipes with carrot
How to substitute carrots
If you are using carrots as a root vegetable, then substituting with another root vegetable works well. For example, if you’re roasting carrots, you could instead roast potatoes, beets, parsnips, and rutabagas.
If you’re looking for a crunchy vegetable (to include in a vegetable platter), you can substitute with cucumbers, zucchini/courgettes, radishes, jicama, celery, and green beans.
If you’re braising carrots, you can substitute carrots with other aromatic vegetables, such as celery, fennel, or green bell pepper/capsicum like the holy trinity vegetables in Cajun cooking.
If you’re using carrots to add sweetness and vegetable bulk to a dish, you can substitute with broccoli, cabbage, or winter squashes (butternut squash, acorn squash).
If you’re out of carrots for carrot cake, consider switching to banana bread or zucchini bread.
Where to buy carrots
You can find fresh carrots at any grocery store in the refrigerated produce section, usually next to cabbage, kale, and broccoli.
Some stores like Costco and Trader Joe’s only sell carrots without leaves packed in plastic bags. You can stock up on these bulk carrots for stock and soups while reserving the fancy, expensive young carrots for salads and crudités (a.k.a. vegetable platters).
Frozen carrots are available in frozen vegetable mixes in the frozen foods aisle. You can find sliced carrots in the frozen stir-fry vegetable mix or small dice carrots in the “vegetable mélange” (fancy word for “mix”) along with peas, carrots, and green beans.
My favorite source of carrots is the farmers market. If you have access to one, go there to buy bunches of sweet and tender carrots. You’ll want to enjoy these young carrots raw or lightly cooked.
Are carrot seasonal?
Carrots are cool-season, biennial plants. Typically, farmers treat carrots like annuals and harvest them in their first year when they are young and tender before they flower and the core becomes woody. Because carrots are planted all year-round, the grocery store sells them throughout the year.
Carrots do best when planted in early spring or midsummer so you’ll find the sweetest carrots in the cool fall, according to the University of Illinois.
How to pick carrots
Choose firm carrots with bright-colored skin and a satiny texture. The carrot should not look dry, shriveled, or limp. There should be no soft spots, signs of mold, or hairy texture.
If possible, pick carrots without green crowns (green at the top of the carrot), which is an indication of “sunburn”. The sunburnt areas will have an unpleasant, bitter flavor, so you’ll want to chop the sunburnt part off and discard it if your carrot has a green crown.
Carrots that are broken or have cracks and scuffing are a result of overgrowth, stones, or damage after harvesting. These don’t affect the taste of the carrots, just the appearance. You may consider buying them if they’re discounted for stocks and stews. Bonus points for reducing food waste.
WARNING: Carrots with forked or twisted roots or fine, hairy roots and a bitter taste can result from disease and pests like viruses and nematodes. Avoid these misshapen carrots.
How to store carrots
Always remove the carrot leaves before storing in the fridge. While I love buying carrots with leafy tops, keeping the leaves on the carrots can suck moisture out of the roots. This happens because the root serves as a storage of water and sugars for the leaves. No leaves = a longer-lasting taproot.
Place the carrots in a plastic bag and leave the bag open. Store the carrots in the crisper drawers of the fridge. You can also store carrots submerged in cold water in a covered container (change out the water every few days). They should last for a few weeks in the fridge when stored correctly). You can store the leaves separately in a resealable plastic bag if you plan to use them.
TIP: Out of fridge space? You can store carrots in the basement or a cool closet. During cold weather months, I store them on the porch in an open plastic bag.
Peeled baby carrots should be stored in a covered container filled with cool water to keep them fresh or in a sealed plastic baggie.
Fun things to do with carrots
- Carrots, if not harvested for food, grow beautiful white, lacey flowers in their second year. The flowers look like Queen Anne’s Lace. You may have to grow your own carrots in your garden because few florists sell carrot flowers.
- Cut carrots into flowers for garnishing your dishes. You can make simple flower shapes by cutting triangles into a carrot lengthwise. Then slice the carrot into rounds to make a flower. You can also use a spiralizer to cut a carrot into a wide ribbon. Then curl the ribbon into a circular shape around itself to make a flower that resembles a rose.
FAQ about carrots
Do carrots improve your eyesight?
The British created the myth that carrots improve eyesight and night vision as a way to cover up their improved radar technology during World War II.
Is it OK to eat carrots everyday?
Yes, carrots are full of nutrients, like beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in humans. If you eat a large number of carrots, especially orange carrots which are highest in beta carotene, you may develop carotenemia/carotenaemia. This is a harmless condition where your skin turns orangish-yellow. If you find your hands are yellower than you’d like, pull back on the carrot consumption.