Carrots - vegetables with historic roots

Abigail Martin
Originally purple and pale yellow in color, carrots have not always been orange. Today, ARS researchers have selectively bred carrots with pigments that reflect almost all colors of the rainbow.

Originally purple and pale yellow in color, carrots have not always been orange. According to the Wisconsin Farmers Market Association, orange carrots as we know them today first appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Since then, carrots have made their way to the United States, and to Wisconsin.

In 2017, Wisconsin growers harvested 4,500 acres of carrots, slotting our state third in the U.S. production rankings. Carrots may not be the first commodity that comes to mind when thinking of Wisconsin agriculture, but this root vegetable is definitely not one to overlook.

The majority of Wisconsin carrots are harvested for processing vegetables, either slicing or dicing. Slicing carrots are grown to be sliced into round coin shapes, and dicing carrots are grown to be diced into small cubes, often used in bags of mixed vegetables with peas and corn.

These different needs for processing carrots require different varieties. The slicing carrot varieties only grow to about one inch in width, where the dicing carrot varieties can be much larger in width. All of these varieties have a more cylindrical shape than older varieties that have a ‘traditional’ cone shape. This trait has been chosen intentionally, to help create more uniform coin shapes and more square, squares (less curved surface area for curved edges on diced pieces).

The science and technology behind growing a modern carrot is apparent. From new genetics and new varieties, to precision planters and innovative harvesting equipment, Wisconsin carrot growers are utilizing top-notch resources to produce their brightly-colored root vegetables.

This fall, keep your eyes open as you pass a farmer’s field. If you look closely, you may notice Wisconsin carrots being harvested; or maybe you will spot a truck hauling the harvest from a field to one of several carrot processing plants here in our state.

Carrots are an excellent choice for your dinner table. According to the University of Wisconsin Extension, carrots contain a high amount of beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Vitamin A helps prevent infection, improve vision, and may prevent some forms of cancer. Choose carrots as part of a healthy diet, and to add a bright orange color to your plate.

Orange carrots as we know them today first appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century.

My favorite way to eat carrots? A simple recipe made with a surprising ingredient, orange juice. I’ve included the recipe below, and encourage you to try it out!

Alice in Dairyland's Carrot side dish

1 16-oz package of sliced Wisconsin carrots

¼ c. orange juice

¼ c. water

2 T. salted butter

2 sprigs fresh dill or parsley

Salt to taste

Combine the carrots, juice, water, and butter in a 1-quart saucepan. Cover the pan and cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 12 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Uncover the pan when the carrots are tender, and cook a few minutes longer, until most of the juice is gone. Add the dill or parsley to the pan. Sprinkle with salt if desired. Stir and serve.

Abigail Martin

Abigail Martin is serving as Wisconsin's 72nd Alice in Dairyland.