Farm Fresh Now: Carrots: Nutritional Powerhouse
Red, black, yellow, white, purple, green—these were the colors that wild carrots (also known as Queen Anne’s Lace) started out being – pretty much every color but orange! First cultivated in Afghanistan in the 7th century, the original domesticated carrot was purple outside and yellow inside, similar to the Purple Dragon carrots you see at local farmers markets.
Colorful and Diverse Carrots
In the 1600’s, the Dutch developed the orange carrot, but it was the French horticulturist Vilmorin-Andrieux who took the stubby Dutch carrot, and through crosses with wild carrots, finally produced the elongated, bright orange root we know today.
Now, when you buy from local farmers, you can get delicious carrots in all the colors of the rainbow. Along with different colors, you’ll find carrots of all shapes and sizes. Along with old favorites like Nantes, Imperator, and Danvers, there are tiny, almost round Thumbelinas, squatty Chantenays, and the long, elegant, light yellow Kimbi.
Healthy and Powerful
It nearly goes without saying that carrots are good for you. How many times were you implored, “Eat your carrots! They’re good for your eyes!”
With a whopping dose of vitamin A (about 8,000 units per carrot) and lots of beta-carotene and other anti-oxidants, carrots are a nutritional powerhouse. They are also packed with high levels of potassium, calcium, and phosphorus, which help keep bones, nerves, and muscles functioning well. But the ocular claim is dubious.
According to Jane Grigson, the great English cookbook writer, during World War II, in order to encourage the consumption of carrots, one of the few foodstuffs not in short supply, the British authorities spread the rumor that fighter pilots consumed vast quantities of carrots to enable them to see in the dark. And from that propaganda, countless mothers on both sides of the Atlantic have implored countless children to eat their carrots.
Farm Fresh Fighters
Today it is more often nutritionists and physicians who implore us to eat our carrots – not to enhance our vision but to enhance our general health. The carotenes in carrots and many other vegetables work their wonders by destroying oxygen free radicals. This anti-oxidant effect helps fight cancers, enhance immune response, and protect cells against UV radiation.
But when it comes to carotenes, not all carrots are created equal. One of the most widely overlooked factors behind variation in nutrient levels of vegetables is the variety, or cultivar, of the vegetable. Robert Shewfelt, a food scientist at the University of Georgia, reported that carotene levels in any given vegetable often vary by a factor of 20, depending on the cultivar. And it’s usually your local farmers who grow the most nutritious cultivars. So get some great carrots, munch them whole, or try them in a soup, salad, or this light and lively slaw.
Colorful Carrot Salad Recipe
You can make this light meal in minutes. Just grate the carrots, toss with oil and lemon juice, then put a heaping spoonful on a cracker, biscuit, or crusty, hot bread. Add another drizzle of olive oil, and another pinch of herbs for a mouthwatering treat of contrasting textures and flavors. Who says food can’t be simple, beautiful, healthy, and delicious all at the same time?
- 1 pound carrots (any color), peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (or tarragon or herb(s) of your choice)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Buttery crackers, small biscuits or hot, crusty baguettes, for serving.
- Cut carrots into matchstick pieces and transfer to a bowl.
- Whisk the lemon juice and oil together, pour over carrots, and toss. Add parsley and toss again. Then add salt and pepper to taste.
Seasonal Cook’s Notes:
Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course. The more different varieties of carrots you use, the more delicious, nutritious, and beautiful this dish will be. You can eat it as a salad, or serve on crackers, biscuits or bread.
The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers’ market or CSA nearest you, visit www.localharvest.org.
Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.