Let us begin with a little history lesson about carrots…
The wild ancestor of our present-day orange carrot is a plant with a purple taproot that is native to Afghanistan. It was first cultured several thousand years ago. By the 1300’s, purple carrots were growing around Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and France. Two mutant varieties (white and yellow carrots) began to be cultivated as well. In the 1600’s Europeans were growing 4 colors of carrots- red, white, yellow, and purple.
You may have noticed that orange carrots were not mentioned. As a matter of fact, orange carrots did not exist until 400 years ago. The orange carrot was created when two plant breeders in the Netherlands crossed one yellow mutant carrot from Africa with one local red carrot. The motivation for this botanical merger is that the men wanted to honor the House of Orange, the princely dynasty that had led the Netherlands’ revolt against Spain in the mid-sixteenth century.
The new designed vegetable was first referred to as “the long orange Dutch carrot.” It became so popular that Dutch entrepreneurs started promoting it outside the country. Over the span of 200 years, orange carrots became the most common variation in the Western world. Although purple carrots still appear in food markets in Japan, India, Egypt, and China, most stores in the US carry only orange varieties.
Too bad for us that the House of Orange was not called the House of Purple. The color is a good indicator of how much and what bionutrients they contain. Purple carrots are high in anthocyanins, which have more antioxidants and more health benefits than the beta-carotene in orange carrots.
How to Get the Most Amount of Benefits from Orange Carrots
Although orange carrots don’t carry potential disease-preventing properties like purple carrots, nevertheless they are still a nutritious vegetable. Orange carrots are high in fiber, low in fat, low in calories, and are a good source of beta-carotene. Most of a carrots’ calories come from sugar content but it’s not enough to raise your blood sugar levels.
There are a few simple tricks that you can do to triple the nutrient content and at the same time enhance the flavor.
First off, you should think twice before purchasing baby carrots. Those little nuggets that are so convenient that come in a plastic bag all ready scrubbed and pre-trimmed. Manufactures have made it so easy for consumers to just reach into the bag, grab the baby carrots and enjoy.
But, in reality those baby carrots are misshapen mature carrots that have been carved down to a smaller and more uniform shape and size. All of the nutritious parts have now been lost and thrown away. When you carve away the outer portion of a carrot, you remove 1/3 of its phytonutrients.
- Cutting mature orange carrots into grab-and-go- sized would make a much more nutritious snack than those pre-packaged baby carrots.
For the Freshest and Sweetest Flavor
Buy carrots that still have their green tops attached. They might be a few weeks old which can give them a bitter flavor, but don’t be worried. When you get home, simply cut off the green tops before refrigerating your carrots to preserve moisture within the carrot.
Some vegetables and fruits that come frozen preserve their freshness and nutrition. This is not the case about carrots. Due to the peeling and process that carrots undergo before freezing, along with the freezing-and- thawing cycle, can destroy half of their antioxidant content. All too often, we try to speed up meal preparation and this is how we can lose wholesome nutrients. Take the extra step and cut fresh carrots instead of going for frozen pre-cut carrots.
Some foods are more nutritious when eaten raw, but this isn’t the case for carrots. Carrots are more beneficial when cooked. The heat breaks down their cell walls which makes them more bioavailable so you can absorb the nutrients more easily.
The Best Way to Cook Carrots
The way you cook carrots, actually matters. Boiling them will filter out all of the water-soluble nutrients and end up in the cooking water. If you sauté or steam carrots, you will retain more of their nutrients because they are in less contact with water.
Important Note: There’s been a new discovery about receiving more beneficial nutrients with cooked carrots. If you cook your carrots wholesome and then chop them up after they’ve been cooked, you get more nutrients. This process will take you longer, but remember you’re receiving a better value.
By taking this extra step and cooking your carrots whole, you may even reduce your risk of cancer. Carrots have a cancer-fighting compound called falcarinol. And cooked whole carrots contain 25% more falcarinols than a raw wholesome carrot. Plus, by cooking a wholesome carrot, you will discover how much sweeter they become. It’s a win-win.
Carrots are best for you when they are eaten with some sort of fat-soluble content such as oil which leads to better absorption.
Combine these 4 steps to get the most benefits out of your orange carrots
- Choose wholesome carrots with their green tops instead of baby carrots
- Cook them whole
- Steam/sauté-Do not boil
- Serve with some oil
The Best Way to Store Carrots
Carrots, like most root vegetables contain a low-respiration rate and can be stored for weeks without decreasing their nutrient value. It’s best to store them away from fruits and veggies that produce ethylene gas. Ethylene gas will penetrate the carrots by forming bitter compounds.
Some fruits and veggies that produce this gas are tomatoes, apples, melons, avocados, peaches, bananas, scallions and some others should not be stored near carrots. To protect your carrots, place them into a sealed plastic bag and store in the crisper drawer of your fridge.
Key Points to Remember About Carrots
- Purple carrots and purple/orange carrots are more nutritious than orange carrots:
Purple, yellow, or red carrots can be found in some supermarkets or local farmers markets. The purple variety is the most health beneficial due to their high anthocyanins content.
- Get the most out of your orange carrots:
Follow the 4 simple steps that I previously mentioned and your body will thank you later.
Have you ever tried different colored carrots besides orange one? Please share below.