Baby carrot anyone? What is a baby carrot? Seems like a simple enough question. Obviously, it’s a carrot that hasn’t yet reached maturity. Also obvious, if you give it some thought, baby carrots will vary in size and shape as do squash, eggplant, and green beans. A baby carrot won’t always be a 2 inch length of uniformly orange vegetable with perfectly rounded ends. So what are those things we buy in the bag?
Those easy-to-pop-in-your-mouth snacks are baby-cut carrots. According to the World Carrot Museum (who knew there was one), baby-cut carrots were the brainchild of Mike Yurosek of Newhall, California who got tired of having to cull 70% of his harvest because the roots were twisted or knobby or broken. He knew that some of his carrots were cut up by frozen vegetable processors so he wondered, why not cut them up ourselves and sell them fresh?
After hand cutting a trial, Yurosek bought an industrial green bean cutter from a frozen food company that was going out of business. That machinery cut 2-inch strips. He then sent the strips to a packager to load them into a potato peeler to remove the peel and smooth the edges. Eventually, he bagged a few and sent to one of his grocery store clients to try. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, there was an upsurge in the popularity of carrots following the 1986 introduction of baby-cut carrots. Consumption peaked in the US at 14.1 pounds of carrots per person per year in 1997. By 2015, average consumption settled at around 8.3 pounds per person per year. Baby-cut carrots now make up more than 50% of carrot sales.
Because of baby-cut carrots’ popularity, plant breeders began to create varieties that were longer and narrower. They also bred the carrots to be sweeter. These were interesting shifts from the previously preferred characteristic of sturdy green tops.
Carrots are edible from one end to the other, but I can’t name anyone off the top of my head who eats the tops. I can name two people who don’t peel carrots on a regular basis. I’m one of them. Most of the nutrition in a carrot lies just beneath the peel. If you take away the peel, it’s easy to take away lots of good stuff in the process.
I prefer baby carrots to baby-cut carrots. I like surprising shapes and slight variances in color and flavor. But again, I’m the oddball. I was eyeing the last tomato in a bushel basket at the Farmer’s Market a few years ago. It was slightly misshapen. The proprietor of the booth said I could have it. He’d never be able to sell it. It seems even when we’re purchasing directly from the farmer, we’ve come to expect uniformity.
I’ll never argue against something that encourages a vegetable snack over a doughnut and I’m happy when waste is reduced by using all the parts of a particular food. Baby-cut carrots tick those boxes. But I vastly prefer the full flavor of the food I grew up eating right out of the garden to uniformity.
So, when there’s an option, I’ll take a baby carrot over a baby-cut carrot. Anyone else want one?