Introduction to Carrots
Carrots are a biennial plant from the parsley family initially grown for its scented leaves and seeds and not the roots. A few of carrot’s relatives still cultivated for their leaves include funnel, dill, and parsley. Wild carrots belong to the Daucus carota, Carota sub-species while the domesticated carrots are members of Daucus carota, sativus sub-species. Wild carrots used to be red, white, black, purple but not orange! The best carrots for consumption are the slender, young ones. While baby carrots are appealing, they are not as flavourful as fully grown ones due to their lack of maturity.
When worn by the ladies of the English court, the lacy green foliage of carrot tops made an appealing hair, or hat ornament and was taken as a fashion statement. The ancient Greeks used carrots to prepare a love potion that was believed to endow men with passion while making women more submissive. The Romans believed the seeds and carrots to be aphrodisiacs and were a common sight in Roman gardens.
The root and leaves of the vegetable was used as yellow dye during the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, and in France they are still used to make butter a little brighter in colour. Approximately one third of all the carrots dispersed in the world are produced in China, the largest producer of carrots in the world. Russia and United States closely follow China in world production of carrots.
History of Carrots
History of carrot extends back five thousand years. According to excavated evidence it is believed that they originated in Afghanistan. Travellers through the centuries dispersed the seeds along the trade routes of Africa, Arabia and Asia selling them in areas wishing to cultivate new and productive plants. The Greeks referred to the carrot as Philon or Philtron from their word philo meaning loving. Carrot’s present name is inspired from the French who called it carotte.
The earliest varieties were more commonly used for medicinal purposes and less frequently as food. They were prescribed for a wide array of illnesses from treating syphilis to animal bites. King of Pontius (approximately 100 B.C), Mithridates, possessed a formula for neutralizing some poisons using carrot seeds as the main ingredient. Strangely enough the concoction has actually been found to work!
The early varieties were not very sweet or succulent like the ones today. European cultivation of carrots started in the Middle Ages with the Dutch developing the bright orange carrot by cross-breeding the red varieties with yellow – a colour inspired by the colour of the emblem of the House of Orange. Generations of selective breading finally produced the sweeter tasting succulent varieties most common today with a smaller inner core.
Health Benefits Carrots
Packed with an arsenal of nutrients, carrots are useful in fighting off a number of ailments. It is common knowledge that carrots are good for the eyes. This is because they are loaded with beta-carotene, something the liver converts into vitamin A and the retina transforms into rhodopsin, a purplish pigment needed for night vision. Beyond that beta-carotene protects against macular degeneration and old age cataracts and improves vision in general1. It is believed that consumption of beta-carotene can cut down on macular degeneration risk by as much as 40%. Additionally, it acts as an antioxidant countering cell damage due to routine metabolism. As such it aids in slowing down the aging process of cells.
Carrots contain falcarinol and falcarindiol which provide the veggie with anticancer properties. Falcarinol is a naturally occurring pesticide produced by the plant for protection of the root against fungal diseases. Carrots are just about the only ordinary sources of this compound, believed to be responsible for providing protection against lung, breast, and colon cancer2.
The carotenoids beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lutein are linked with lowering the risk of heart disease. Consumed regularly, the soluble fibres in carrots bind with bile acids to remove them from the body thus lowering the LDL cholesterol. The potassium in carrots aids in improving blood pressure by lowering the effects of sodium6.
Carrots house antiseptic and antibacterial properties that are ideal for improving the immune system. The high content of vitamin C fuels white blood cell (among the most relevant elements in human immune system) activity. Carrots act as potent antiseptics, helping to prevent infections when applied either as shredded raw, or boiled and mashed to external wounds.
Munching on raw carrots helps to scour off plaque like a toothbrush. Furthermore, carrots activate the production of saliva which is alkaline and counters the effects of acid and cavity forming bacteria. Eating raw carrots also stimulates the gums. The vitamin A nourishes the skin preventing dryness, blemishes and uneven skin tone.
Nutritional Value Carrots
The good thing about carrots is that they contain minute amounts of total and saturated fats, and no cholesterol making them a great diet food. They rate very low on the glycemic scale, getting 3 out of 100. This means that one serving of carrots has almost no effect on blood glucose levels, making it a good choice for diabetics.
The nutrients in carrots are packed in protein packets that need to be broken down to release the nutrients. So unlike most other vegetables where cooking cuts down the nutritional values grinding, cooking, juicing, or thoroughly chewing carrots only helps to release more of these nutrients. Cooking carrots in fats or oils, grinding, or juicing enhances the carotenoid availability by 600%. Carotenoids are fat soluble and presence of oils enhances their absorption by 1000%.
Just 100 grams of carrots provide 10 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram protein and 3 grams fibre. The same quantity delivers roughly 10108 mcg beta carotene, 9.2 milligrams of vitamin C, 0.8 mg vitamin E, 0.147 mg vitamin B6, and 0.93 mg niacin. Additionally it contains vitamin K, thiamine, folate, and riboflavin.
Carrots also have ample amounts of minerals. In 100 grams of carrots there are 323 mg of potassium, 44 mg of phosphorus, 35 mg sodium, 27milligrams of calcium, 15mg magnesium, 0.6 mg of iron, 0.2 mg zinc and 1.1 mcg of selenium.
Besides tasting great when consumed raw as a snack, carrots can be eaten in many other ways. They can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, roasted, grilled, added to soups, stews, casseroles, quiches, omelets, stir fried and the list goes on. Their naturally sweet taste makes them a good ingredient in cakes, breads, muffins, or even cookies. Since, carrots can be used in so many ways, it only makes sense they should be purchased in bulk and preserved when in season to enjoy all year round. Here are some simple ways to do just that:
- Carrots keep for several months in the refrigerator.
- Dried carrots can be reconstituted for use in cooking. To dry fresh carrots simply wash young carrots and slice, shred or grate them. Add just enough lemon juice to lightly coat them and arrange on drying rack to dry to a crisp.
- Freezing carrots is very simple. After washing, cut them into desired sized pieces and steam until half cooked. Then submerge them immediately in cold water and store them in zip-lock bags.
Here are a few unconventional way to make use of carrots.
- To spike the nutritional value of soup. Replace cream or stock in creamed veggie soup with carrot juice. The juice makes a good enhancer and gives thick, pureed, root based soups more depth.
- Carrot juice can be blended into tomato based pasta or pizza sauces. Amount of juice used can be varied, replacing any portion or all of the liquid in the sauce. Blend some carrots in the juice and you have a great low fat topping for pasta, or seafood.
- 2 medium sized carrots
- 2 Tbsp honey
- Cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice (a pinch of each)
- ½ cup plain yoghurt
- ½ cup milk
Chilled Carrot Milkshake
Wash and cut carrots into chunks. Steam until softened. Mash by hand or puree in a blender. Add all the ingredients and blend well. Chill before serving.
Carrots have shown promise in treating a number of ailments, among them, infantile diarrhoea. Two separate clinical studies indicate that carrots are beneficial for this condition. Other conditions in which carrots might be beneficial include vitamin A deficiency, constipation and antioxidant activity3.
Anthocyanin is a forceful anti-oxidant in purple carrots. It provides natural protection against UV rays of the sun and aids in building collagen in the skin. In studies it has also shown promise in averting the growth of precancerous skin cells4.
In a 2011 study, carrot juice extract was responsible for destroying leukaemia cells and prevent their progress5.