Multi-Colored Carrots

by Elizabeth Skipper | June 16th, 2015 | Ask the Chef

colored carrots (400x400)I’ve seen multi-colored carrots in dishes at restaurants. I haven’t ever bought them to cook at home, as they are harder to find and tend to be more expensive. Is there any benefit to spending the money on them, or should I stick with my more frugal, orange carrots?

Are you familiar with the plant Queen Anne’s Lace? If so, then you know what a wild carrot is; and if you’ve pulled one up, you know the root is thin, white, and likely forked. If, like me, you were curious enough to taste it, you know it’s disappointingly bitter.* The cultivated carrot we eat today is derived from wild carrots, although it seems a far cry from its origins. In the West, we’re mostly familiar with the orange variety.

There are two groups of cultivated carrots: the Eastern/Asiatic carrot, which is purple or yellow, and the Western carrot, which is yellow, orange, white, or red. The Western carrot is the one we’re most familiar with. It’s commonly believed to have been cultivated and improved by the Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries.

If all you’ve had are bagged carrots from the grocery store, you know them as long, tapered orange roots. Some are slender, some are fatter; but other than that, they’re pretty much the same. The revelation for me came when I started getting organic carrots at my CSA. In Switzerland, my greengrocer said that big carrots were for horses because they were overgrown, pithy, and flat tasting. Here, the ones our farmer grows are a deep vivid orange, and they’re sweet – absolutely delicious, even when they get quite large. It’s both the variety and the way he grows them that make the difference.

I like to tell the story of a fellow CSA member whose Afghan hounds loved the farm’s carrots. When the supply ran out toward the end of winter one year, she bought organic carrots at the store… and the dogs turned up their noses at them! Talk about spoiled puppies!

So do colored carrots taste different than the familiar orange ones? Not much, in my opinion, and certainly not better. Color-wise, they’re intriguing, of course. They were once served me in a restaurant sliced lengthwise, which showed a contrasting white core, a nice visual effect. But they weren’t better tasting than their orange kin.

Unless you can find colored carrots fresh, not having been shipped in from goodness-knows-where, don’t spend extra money for them unless you want their visual effect. Instead, find the best organic locally-grown deep orange carrots available and enjoy their superior flavor.

* If you’re curious about Queen Anne’s lace, which can be found growing wild on the roadside and in fields during summer, be absolutely positive about identifying it. It can easily be confused with poison hemlock, which you do NOT want to ingest. It’s fatal.

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