Carrots, the second most popular vegetable in the world, are having something of a moment. One might even say we're living in the golden age of carrots, as more varieties than ever are becoming available to the average shopper - including exciting heirloom varieties of antiquity.
First domesticated in Afghanistan, this refined version of Queen Anne's lace, a common weed, first began to spread far and wide during the Middle Ages - available in white, yellow, purple-black, violet, burgundy, and plum. The orange carrots we know and love today didn't become available until the Dutch got ahold of them sometime in the 16th century, as a nod to the royal House of Orange. These - of the Nantes and Imperator varieties - are now the most-common, bright orange with a delicious, earthy sweetness.
There are, however, other types that should certainly cross your palate as well. Here's . quick look at what you'll find at your local grocery, farmers market, or CSA:
Nantes are the easiest for home gardeners to grow. They're sweet and crisp, easy to store, and prefer rocky soil.
’Bolero': high yielding
‘Nelson’ : uniform shapes, perfect for eating
‘Scarlet Nantes’ : sweet, deep orange color
‘Yaya’: similar to ‘nelson’, but less sweet, good for fall sowing
‘Napa’: resistant to Alternanaria Blight and Powdery Mildew; deep orange; sweet; crisp
‘Touchon’: French heirloom; similar to ‘bolero’; sweet
‘Parano’: early ’nantes’; eat fresh, cooked, or juiced
‘White satin’: white in color
‘Merida’: storage-type bred for overwintering; plant in Sept/Oct; sweet
‘Purple dragon’: longer in size; purple skin with bright orange core, but color fades when cooked; rich in phytochemicals
‘Kaleidoscope mix’: a mix of 5 varieties
‘Cosmic purple’: violet on outside and orange in middle; retains color when cooked
Imperator are classic, long, and what you’ll most-often find in stores. They require at least a foot of earth to grow; light, sandy loam soil is best.
‘Atomic Red’: slim, best cooked; retains red color after cooking
Chantenay are short and stout, enjoy heavy or rocky soils, and are incredibly fast-growing.
‘Hercules’: great for rocky conditions or clay
‘Red-Cored Chantenay’: deep-orange; stays sweet when stored
Mini and Radish-style are grown in shallow root zones or in containers. They also perform well in heavy or rocky soils.
‘Babette’: often served whole with the tops
‘Romeo’: tiny (1-2”); resembling small beets; rich in flavor
The James Scarlet Intermediate dates from 1870, has a good girth and earthy flavor. Best to sow in May for December harvest.
De Djerba are from Tunisia in shades of violet, black, and orange.
We offer a base selection here to help you consider whether you'd like to grow your own carrots, but there are many more to explore if you are curious. Seed Savers Exchange is one of my go-to places to order seeds, including the aforementioned heirloom varieties.
You might also be wondering if, other than color and size, there are nutritional differences among each variety....
And indeed there are. But only slight nutritional differences between carrot varieties. In general, they all contain high levels of vitamin A, are rich in fiber, and have a modest amount of vitamin K, vitamin C, and potassium. Ultimately, carrots are good for your eyes, skin, teeth, immune system, and digestive health.
The key is the color.
Flavonoids found in purple or black carrots have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties, while some red carrots may have more beta-carotene and lycopene, which is linked to reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.
At the end of the day, however, the health differences really aren't a dealbreaker for any specific variety - just keep eating these crunchy, vitamin A rich beauties and your body will love you for it.
If you need inspiration for how to use them, check out my flavor pairing ideas, along with some of my favorite recipes below:
Chervil Cilantro Caraway Cumin Honey Greens: carrot, collards Mustard seeds Nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, walnuts Fruits: apples, apricots, citrus (lemon/orange), dates, pineapple Other root vegetables: daikon, radish, parsnip Game meats Lentils/bean/legumes Spring carrots pair well with mild meats like chicken and rabbit
Directions: Combine fennel, mustard seeds, cumin, and coriander in a small sauté pan and toast over medium heat for about 1 minute, until toasted and fragrant. Let cool, then finely grind.
Combine toasted spices, carrot greens, cilantro, garlic, preserved lemon, olive oil, and salt in a food processor. Process until finely chopped but not pureed.
Serve with assorted vegetables and flatbread OR use as a marinade OR thin with vinegar and oil to use as a salad dressing.
potato, carrot, & ginger soup Serves 4
1 cup barley 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 onions diced 8 carrots chopped 2 pounds potatoes 2 tablespoons ginger chopped 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth 1 pinch salt 1 pinch pepper 1 orange juiced In a pot, add 3 cups water and barley with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes (pearled barley takes less time to cook because it has less fiber than hulled barley and is less nutritious).
Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat oil and add onions. Sauté until translucent, then add the carrots, potatoes, ginger, and broth. Add more water to submerge vegetables if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
Puree the mixture in batches using a food processor or blender. You may need to add more liquid (water) for a thinner consistency and easier blending. Add salt, pepper, and orange juice to taste. Return to stove and keep warm until barley finishes cooking.
Drain the barley when it’s tender, thoroughly cooked, and add to soup.
Looking for more carrot recipes? Check out these spring rolls from a previous post OR check out my next newsletter where I'll be featuring a few more carrot inspired recipes.