Monday, September 18, 2006

Apple #196: Baby Carrots

I eat baby carrots just about every day for lunch. I have meant, many times, and now I've finally remembered, to find out if baby carrots are harvested when they're small. Or are they larger carrots that are honed down to size, maybe by a carrot lathe or something.

  • As in many things, the truth about baby carrots depends. It depends on the variety of carrot you have purchased.
  • Some varieties, the Nantes variety for example, are bred to grow small and ripen quickly so that they can be harvested when they are small.

Nantes carrots, bred to grow small
(seeds are available from Renee's Garden)

Another version of baby carrots, grown in France. Notice how they're a little bit stubbier, and they taper naturally at the ends.
(These are available for ordering from Coosemans Denver)

  • Other varieties are bred to ripen quickly, but they grow long and slender. These are harvested early, but they are then peeled and cut into sections.
    • Carrots are washed
    • A cutter removes the green tops
    • An inspector weeds out the misshapen or "problem" carrots
    • Automated cutters cut the carrots into two-inch pieces
    • A third cutter trims the pieces and does some pre-peeling work
    • An automated, light-based sorter picks out any carrots that have green in them
    • Two-inch pieces are sent down pipes to the peelers
    • Peelers rotate, scrape, and peel the two-inch pieces
    • Baby carrots are weighed and packaged, then stored in refrigerated units

What most baby carrots look like in the grocery store
(Photo from Harvest Cycle)

  • Baby carrots got their start in frozen foods. Food processers were already paring down the larger sized carrots to be included in frozen mixed-vegetable bags.
  • Then a California farmer, the guy who sold Bunny-Luv carrots, was tired of dumping his misshapen, consumer-unfriendly-looking carrots. He said he used to feed his extra carrots to his pigs, but pigs can only eat so many carrots before their fat turns orange.
  • He saw the frozen baby carrots and thought, why couldn't he do that and package them to be sold fresh? So he tried it, and it was enormously successful from the start.

Your friends, the baby carrots, cooked and buttered, on the plate, ready for you to eat them
(Photo from Busy Cooks)

  • One source I read said that baby carrots have less of the good stuff like Vitamin A and beta carotene than larger carrots. This is because when carrots are allowed to ripen over a longer period of time, they store up more nutrients. However, the source said that it isn't too big an issue because regular carrots have been bred and hybridized to increase their nutritional value.
  • I wanted to know the particulars about this, so I looked up the nutritional data for baby carrots vs regular-sized carrots. I should caution that the data wasn't available in comparable units, so I did some multiplication to get comparable numbers. I don't know if that's how it really works, but at least you'll get an idea of the state of things in carrotland.
    • Baby Carrots, 50 grams (nutritional values derived by multiplying nutrition for 10g of baby carrots times 5)
      • Vitamin A 140%
      • Vitamin C 5%
      • Calcium 0.1%
      • Iron 0.1%
      • Sugars 2.5g
      • Fiber 1g
    • Big Carrots, 50 grams (about 1 small-sized regular carrot)
      • Vitamin A 120%
      • Vitamin C 5%
      • Calcium 2%
      • Iron 1%
      • Sugars 2.3g
      • Fiber 1.5g
  • What it comes down to is that carrots are good for you, whether you eat them large or small. Crunch 'em right up.
P.S. Don't forget to tell me your top five favorite Apples, please.

Ask Yahoo, "Are baby carrots really baby carrots or just carrots cut for babies?" August 4, 2004
Mary Spoon, "Are baby carrots as nutritious as large ones?" Reno Gazette-Journal, June 24, 2002
Elizabeth Wiese, "Digging the baby carrot," USA Today, August 11, 2004
Calorie Count, baby carrots and regular carrots
To read more about how Grimmway Farms grows and processes their baby carrots, go to their Consumers page, then choose Baby Carrots

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