Nutrition: 1 cup of raw carrots contain 52 calories, almost all from carbohydrates. They're high in fiber (that's why they crunch) and are a good source of thiamin, niacin, folate, manganese, potassium and vitamins B6, C and K. But few foods can rival carrots' vitamin A content; that one cup offers 428 percent of the recommended daily allowance for adults.
And your mother was right: Carrots are good for your eyes. Again, it's that vitamin A content that promotes eye health.
In addition, beta carotene which gives carrots that distinctive orange color is a powerful antioxidant. Carrots are believed to help cardiovascular health, too. Cooked carrots actually may be healthier than raw because heat releases more beta carotene.
Selection: If buying unpeeled carrots, look for smooth, straight roots. Color should be bright. If tops are attached, they should appear bright green and fresh, not wilted. Avoid carrots that look dried out, feel soft and rubbery or that show blemishes and cracks. Also, skip carrots that have "sunburned" shoulders near the tops; they grew above ground and can be tough. Younger, slim carrots are sweeter.
Storage: Carrots with tops actually will try to grow after harvest, using up nutrients stored in the root. So trim off tops or cut short after purchase. Don't store carrots with apples or melons; the fruit releases ethylene that can bring out bitterness in carrots. Chilling lengthens carrots' shelf life, but don't keep them tightly sealed in plastic; they need a little air.
Cooking: Steamed carrots retain more flavor than boiled. To microwave, use 2 or 3 tablespoons of water for 2 cups sliced carrots in a microwave-safe dish. Cover with plastic and microwave on high for 7 to 8 minutes.
Cooked carrots keep three days in the refrigerator.
Freezing: Carrots are easy to freeze. Start with good quality, young carrots for best flavor. Peel and remove the tops and tips. Slice carrots crosswise into "coins" (1/4- to 1/2-inch thick), 1-inch chunks or, if small, leave whole.
Blanche the carrots. Plunge them into boiling water for 2 minutes (for coins), 3 minutes (for chunks) or 5 minutes (for whole). Then, remove them from the hot water and plunge them into a large bowl filled with cold water and ice. Let them chill for 2 or 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Pack into sealed plastic bags and freeze. They'll keep for nine months.
All in the family: Carrots are closely related to dill, parsley and fennel. Queen Anne's lace is a wild carrot relative.
Native to Afghanistan and Central Asia, carrots have been cultivated since at least A.D. 900 and are now found in cuisines around the globe. Ancient Greeks and Romans used wild carrots for medicinal cures. By the Middle Ages, they were a staple in European diets.
Early carrots were purple or red. The familiar orange carrot was developed in the Netherlands in the 1600s.
The Pilgrims brought carrots with them to the New World. According to carrot lore, they grew them in boxes aboard the Mayflower. Almost two centuries later, Thomas Jefferson grew several different varieties at Monticello.
Bugs Bunny who started chomping cartoon carrots in 1938 is credited with popularizing carrots with American consumers.
When processed, all parts are used. The tender tip goes into baby-cut carrots, and the remainder, including peels, will be used for juice or other carrot products. The crown becomes animal feed. The greens are edible, too.
Although Kern County grows the most carrots, California's official carrot capital is Holtville, 125 miles inland of San Diego in the Imperial Valley. Billed as the "Hoppiest Place on Earth," Holtville will host its 66th annual Carrot Festival on Feb. 1-10. For details, visit www.holtvillechamber.org.
Peel older, large carrots. The skin tends to be tough and chewy. Those peels can be used in soup base or stock for flavoring. For younger carrots, just scrub with a vegetable brush.
Carrots' sugar content make them ideal for baked goods. Shredded carrots can be used as a partial sugar substitute in cakes, quick breads or cookies.
Shredded carrots also offer moisture, flavor and texture without fat for ground meat dishes. Add 1 cup of shredded carrots to meat loaf.
Roasted carrots develop a rich, deep flavor and make a great side dish to meats or poultry. Cut carrots into 1-inch chunks, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and fresh herbs such as parsley or basil. Roast at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until fork-tender.
Glazed carrots are always a favorite. Cook carrots in equal parts orange juice and water until tender. Drain, then add butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar or maple syrup. Toss until carrots are coated and serve.