Will the Real Baby Carrot Please Stand Up?
A pet peeve of mine is the food industry’s passing off those cellophane-bagged, short, stumpy, machine-cut carrots as “baby carrots.” What are they really?
The World Carrot Museum reports that manufactured ” baby carrots”, or cut and peel, ( what you see most often in the markets) are carrot shaped slices of peeled carrots invented in the late 1980’s by Mike Yurosek, a California farmer, as a way of making use of carrots which are too twisted or knobbly for sale as full-size carrots. Yurosek was unhappy at having to discard as much as 400 tons of carrots a day because of their imperfections, and looked for a way to reclaim what would otherwise be a waste product. He was able to find an industrial green bean cutter, which cut his carrots into 5 cm lengths, and by placing these lengths into an industrial potato peeler, he created his ” baby carrot”.
The much decreased waste is also used either for juicing or as animal fodder. Perhaps most important, the baby-cut method allows growers to use far more of the carrot than they used to. In the past, a third or more of a carrot crop could have been easily tossed away, but baby-cut allows more partial carrots to be used, and the peeling process actually removes less of the outer skin that you might imagine. They are sold in single-serving packs with ranch dressing for dipping on the side. They’re passed out on airplanes and sold in plastic containers designed to fit in a car’s cup holder. At Disney World, and McDonald’s burgers now come two ways: with fries or baby carrots.
There is nothing “wrong” with manufactured baby carrots. They are washed in chlorinated water which decreases bacterial contamination and is not considered harmful.
True Baby Carrots
The World Carrot Museum explains that a “true” baby carrot is a carrot grown to the “baby stage”, which is to say long before the root reaches its mature size. The test is can you see a proper “shoulder” on each carrot. These immature roots are preferred by some people out of the belief that they are superior either in texture, nutrition or taste.
They are also sometimes harvested simply as the result of crop thinning, but are also grown to this size as a specialty crop. Certain cultivars of carrots have been bred to be used at the “baby” stage. One such cultivar is ‘Amsterdam Forcing’. You will see them in the stores and are normally expensive and displayed with some of the green showing to “prove” they are a “real” carrot.
My thinking is that there is just something inherently tasty about carrots, and I don’t think that the machine-cut variety has the same taste and texture. Take a a super-crunchy bite of a regular- sized or baby carrot pulled from the ground and see if you note a difference. You just may get hooked on the real thing. And Bugs Bunny would be proud of you!