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The carrot is a root vegetable, usually orange or white in color with a woody texture. The edible part of a carrot is a taproot. It is a biennial plant which grows a rosette of leaves in the spring and summer while building up the stout taproot, which stores large amounts of sugars for the plant to flower in the second year. The flowering stem grows to about 1 m tall, with umbels of white flowers.
Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is necessary for healthy eyesight, skin, growth, and also aids our bodies in resisting infection.
Carrots have a higher natural sugar content than all other vegetables with the exception of beets. This is why they make a wonderful snack when eaten raw and make a tasty addition to a variety of cooked dishes.
There are many varieties of carrots, but the variety typically found in supermarkets is from 7 – 9 inches in length and ¾ – 1½ inches in diameter. Carrots are usually sold packaged in plastic bags. Baby carrots were once longer carrots that have been peeled, trimmed to 1½ – 2 inches in length and packaged. True baby carrots are removed from the ground early and actually look like miniature carrots.
To get most gourmet carrots, it is needed to grow them oneself, as these often loose their flavour within a few days.
Carrots are available and in season all year long. Look for well shaped carrots. Pick carrots that are deep orange in color. More beta carotene is present in carrots that have a darker orange color. Avoid carrots that are crackled, shriveled, soft, or wilted.
Carrots are best stored between 32–50 degrees in the crisper section of the refrigerator. If you buy carrots with the green tops still on, break off the tops and rinse, place in a plastic bag and store as described above. Storing them in the refrigerator will preserve their flavor, texture, and the beta carotene content. Do not store them with fruits. Fruits produce ethylene gas as they ripen. This gas will decrease the storage life of the carrots as well as other vegetables. This is why it is best to store fruits and vegetables separately.
Although carrots lose some of their vitamins when peeled, dishes prepared with peeled carrots taste fresher and better. Cook carrots in a small amount of water until they are tender, or save time and cook them in the microwave. Season with dill, tarragon, ginger, honey, brown sugar, parsley, lemon or orange juice.