Carrot plants are biennial plants (plants that live for two years) that produce and store sugars in their roots. This accumulated sugar tends to expand the root, forming what is called the taproot, which is better known to us as the carrot or Daucus carota.
Carrots have probably been eaten for thousands of years, especially as medicinal herbs. They were most likely first grown by farmers in modern day Afghanistan over a thousand years ago. The earliest carrots were generally purple or yellow and varied in taste and size. Centuries later, purple carrots have been almost completely replaced by the now familiar orange carrot, which is rated the third most popular vegetable in New Zealand.
The two most recommended types of carrots for home gardening are Nantes or Chantenay varieties. When these are homegrown, they are generally more flavoursome, colourful, and more nutritious than most commercially grown carrots.
Nutritional value of carrots
Carrots have the highest vitamin A content of all vegetables. One medium carrot supplies enough beta-carotene for the body to make two days supply of vitamin A. They also contain antioxidants, which protect our immune system by absorbing free radicals in our body. Carrots also have a greater antioxidant effect when cooked. Cooking changes the chemical nature of these compounds, making them more effective antioxidants.
Carrots are also an excellent source of phytochemicals, including alpha and beta-carotenes and lycopene. Many of these protect against cancer. They also supply us with useful amounts of fibre, vitamin C, and vitamin B. In addition, carrot skins also have high levels of nutrients, which is a good reason not to peel carrots unless it is really necessary.
Scientific advice on carrot growing
The best time to sow carrots is in early spring and summer, between September and February. Also remember that sites for planting carrot seed should be sunny, with a soil pH of around 6.5. The site also needs to be well drained, and do try to avoid sites with compact layers of stones or lumps which may restrict root penetration.
|1 tsp salt
1½ tsps ground cumin
1½ tsps ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp cayenne pepper
150 g plain flour
½ cup beer
1 egg, whisked
1 cup packed grated carrot
6 spring onions, finely chopped
oil for frying
1 bunch coriander
|Mix salt, spices and flour in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in beer, egg, carrot and spring onion. Mix well. Pour 1 cm oil into a heavy based frying pan and fry spoonfuls of mixture until golden on both sides - around 5 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper and serve garnished with coriander and a dipping sauce of garlic, mint and yoghurt.