Flavor Investigator: Carrots

As the leaves begin to change colour and the temperatures starts to cool (at least here in Canada) one thing I know for sure is that carrots will start to enter the dinner table. These root vegetables are easy to grow allowing them to be produced during the winter time.  The best part is that carrots are quite nutritious and have great amount of crunch!

Carrots (Daucus carota subsp. Sativus) are a type of root vegetable that comes from the family Apiaceae. It has been determined through the use of molecular genetics that the domestic carrot originated in Central Asia. Today, China is one of world’s major producers with India not far behind. Carrots have risen in popularity over the years due to their known antioxidants and high levels of β-carotene. Overall, the characteristic flavour descriptors for carrots are sweet, woody, and earthy with a noticeable harshness.

Flavour Differences in Carrot Varieties

Despite living in an area of prime vegetable growing one thing I fail to see is variations of colour in carrots. It is a shame considering how each colour has subtle differences which would affect a dish. Right now, I want to take the time compare the varieties so if you ever get the chance to purchase them you will have some insight on the topic.

The most common colour of carrots is orange and it is the colour we most typically associate carrots.  You probably already have a good idea as to what they taste like.  They have a high level of sweetness and a slight earthiness which can vary depending on where it is grown.  Purple carrots on the other hand are extremely sweet and have a peppery flavour. However, some purple carrots when cut open are not actually purple. These varieties don’t have such a pronounced pepper note when compared to their cousin.

White/gold carrots are the mildest of all the flavours explored so far. This means that they also do not have as much of an earthy flavour but have a sweetness that is closer of that to winter squash.  Furthermore, they have a licorice-like flavour which make this a unique addition to the table. Finally, red carrots have a flavour similar to orange – sweet with a good amount of earthiness. However, red carrots are meant to be cooked rather than eaten raw.

Flavour Compounds Found in Carrots

Carrots are a unique vegetable because they seem to have a taste which battles sweetness and harshness. The sweetness of carrots comes from the presence of multiple sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose.  The harshness on the other hand is caused volatile terpenoids such terpinolene and myrcene which can be found at a concentration level of 5-200pm. In contrast, the compound group which imparts a bitterness is phenolics which includes examples eugenin and 6-Methoxymellein. Eugenin is also found in cloves and is the reason why when you bite into a whole clove it is bitter.

Moving forward we have the compound group of pyrazines. Pyrazines are aromatic organic compounds which contribute to sharp and earthy flavours. In an analysis of carrots, they found that was the earthy flavour contributor in the vegetable. The interesting aspect is that we are able to detect the compound at a threshhold of 0.001ppb, that’s quite a small amount!

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Possible Flavour Combinations with Carrots

  • Carrots and Spearmint- For this combination try using the traditional orange variety of carrots. Fresh mint is a subtle addition that is refreshing and that highlights the sweetness of the carrots.
  • Carrots and Orange- Produce which is the same colour typically pair well together because they have the have similar flavour compounds contained. Carrots and oranges both have a dominant sweetness but each have their own unique notes that play off of each other. Orange’s acidity brightens up the harshness found in carrots. As well, the fruitiness found in oranges blend well with the slight floral note contained in carrots.
  • Carrots and Black Pepper- Pepper has a nice spiciness which is not the same as hot peppers. Being a root vegetable, carrots are about to withstand harsher flavours. This combination works best when the carrots are pureed in a soup and topped with a liberal sprinkling of pepper.


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