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The Xtremely Odd Evolution of the Baby Carrot

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If you were to ask the average American child what a carrot looks like, they would likely endeavor to describe something that more resembles a flame-colored finger: rounded at the edges and uniformly smooth. The idea of carrots being knobby, conical, and deep orange with a feathery green crown is just plainly outmoded after two subsequent decades of baby carrot dominance. The baby carrot, being far more accessible, homogeneous, and kid-friendly, has redefined our notion (or at least the younger generation’s notion) of what carrots can, and should, look like. But as with all points of progress (especially concerning processed foods) it wasn’t always this way.

Some would say that baby carrots are the dumb, consumer-driven spawn of the more dignified garden-variety carrot. Others, namely farmer Mike Yurosek, would say they are a genius exercise in agricultural efficiency, and a hell of a moneymaker. As the baby carrot lore goes, Yorosek got tired of seeing 400 tons of carrots a day drop down the cull shoot at his packing plant in Bakersfield, CA (the culls are those carrots that are too twisted, knobby, or plain ugly to be marketable). Sometimes more than 70 percent of his carrots were tossed, composted, or fed to livestock. In an effort to recoup some of these losses, Yurosek devised a way to take these culls, shape them and shave them into those familiar baby carrot fingers and essentially turn waste into profits (most baby carrots sell for 50 percent more than conventional carrots – it is all in the packaging).

How Baby Carrots Are Made

That was back in the 90s, and since then baby carrots have become ubiquitous and near dominant in the produce aisle (along with a requisite item alongside ranch dressing). Many purists (or those that find little use for the cynical packaging and marketing of the product), call foul and claim that these carrots are hardly baby (this is true, as they are a variety of imperator carrots that are bred to grow faster) not as healthy (there have been studies that show, while they have higher sugar levels than most carrots, baby carrots contain significantly less beta carotene) and that they are soaked in dangerous chemicals to retain their freshness (there is some truth to this, as some baby carrots are treated with chlorine as an antimicrobial measure). Still, there is no stopping the diminutive baby carrot.

But tell this to the carrot growers of America. In a push to remain relevant in today’s junk food conquered market, carrot growers (specifically the baby carrot growers) have bank rolled a $25 million dollar campaign to boost baby carrot sales and market them as, not junk food alternatives, but as junk food themselves.

Next: Baby! Carrots! Extreme!

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Read more: Children, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, Healthy Schools, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

95 comments

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9:29PM PDT on Oct 13, 2010

interesting, thanks for sharing :)

2:06AM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

Be happy

5:53PM PDT on Sep 26, 2010

in the markets in my little town, 'baby' carrots seems slimy. seems absurd that polishing carrots makes them more valuable

7:26PM PDT on Sep 20, 2010

On another note, many people wrote about carrots spoiling in the refrigerator before they could use them. I learned a trick many years ago that has saved many a bag of carrots for me.

Open up the bag. I usually cut off the top of the bag entirely.The bag holds moisture that encourages decomposition. Allowing air to circulate around the carrots keeps them fresher longer. It might not hurt to take them completely out of the bag. The crisper drawer should provide ample protection.

6:57PM PDT on Sep 20, 2010

I first need to say that I have never been a fan of carrots in general. That said, I will NEVER buy "baby" carrots. I do keep carrots in the house, for soups and stews and the occasional cake. But I ALWAYS buy whole carrots. Recently, I found organically grown carrots with their tops still attached at my local Wegmans store. Perfect. Not even a plastic bag. Just a rubber band holding them together. And who can't find a use for another rubber band? Now, I need to know if there's something I can do with the tops besides add them to my compost pile. Anybody have a suggestion?

3:08AM PDT on Sep 19, 2010

thanks for the information

2:36PM PDT on Sep 17, 2010

Yeah I cut fresh regular carrots into match sticks for my kids and they eat those. It's cheaper and healthier. Organic ones are the best

1:41PM PDT on Sep 16, 2010

I have to agree with Andrea S: "the truth of the matter is that fresh produce spoils quickly and we don't always have the time to whip up fresh meals. having packaged produce and fruits as an option is, at the very least, a healthy alternative."

Whenever possible, I try to eat fresh, unpackaged fruits and veggies. However, there are times when packaged ones are what I end up having - at least I'm not reaching for candy bars or cans of soda.

1:54AM PDT on Sep 15, 2010

thanks

1:09PM PDT on Sep 14, 2010

They taste better. I actually like these little babies and eat them quite often. This from a confirmed veggies hater! So what if they are different or not as good as their bigger siblings? If it makes kids and people like me get a carrot in our mouths I say wahoo!

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Quite entertaining and fun, thanks

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Forwarded to those who need to see this and are interested. Thanks for posting

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