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I rarely buy a lot of carrots unless I'm making carrot cake, a large pot of soup, or gajjar ka halwa, a carrot-based Indian dessert. The refrigerator I'm stuck with is tight on space and its temperature seems irregular. Sometimes the vegetables in the crisper turn frosty. We even had a frozen carrot situation once, and the only "person" who loves that is my puppy — it helps with his teething. But carrots are one of those vegetables that can last for a good amount of time if stored properly (and if you have a proper refrigerator).
What's a carrot, anyway?
To understand how to store carrots smartly, let's take a closer look at the ingredient.
Carrots are roots, more specifically a taproot: a single conical-shaped root from which tinier feathery roots (called secondary lateral roots) emerge. How a carrot takes shape as it grows depends on a variety of factors, from the type of carrot strain to soil conditions and climate.
If you slice through a carrot, you will notice that the center is slightly lighter in color than the exterior. The outside of the carrot is where most of the storage sugars reside. Growing at temperatures greater than 68°F tends to produce carrots that have less sugar but a stronger flavor.
Carrots are typically considered to be a vegetable low in starch but higher in sugars like sucrose. However, this depends on the carrot variety and the growing and storage conditions, like stress. In one study, when carrots were subjected to mechanical stress, like excessive shaking during growing, they tasted bitter and "sickeningly sweet." The cells inside the root release an enzyme called amylase (the same enzyme present in our saliva) that will cut up the starch to release sugars.
In another study, carrots stored at 35.6°F showed a decrease in the amount of starch and an increase in the sugars. In the same study, when carrots were stored at room temperature (66.2°F), the amount of starch declined while the amount of sugars rose, but it did not involve amylase. You might have noticed this too at home: If you leave a carrot on the kitchen counter for a few days, it will taste a bit sweeter than it did the day you brought it home, though it will lose some of its firmness.
Another note you might find valuable: If you've ever heard that smaller, younger carrots are sweeter than larger, older ones, this detailed study by Hans Platenius from 1934 might convince you otherwise. Older carrots actually contain more carotene and more sucrose, and less crude fiber, which makes them a great choice for cooking.
What's the best way to store carrots?
Carrots can last up to two to three months in the refrigerator if stored properly.
If you grow your own carrots or buy them fresh from the farmers market, immediately place them in a bag and store them in your refrigerator. Avoid exposure to sunlight or air, which can cause carrots to worsen in quality.
To store carrots in the refrigerator for a long period of time (say, more than three days), I've found that keeping them in an airtight and zip-top or vacuum-sealed bag is the most efficient. The bag's seal helps control the humidity (refrigerators tend to create dry conditions, which causes food to dehydrate).
When storing carrots, keep them away from vegetables and fruits like apples, pears, ripe bananas, etc., which produce ethylene gas. In plants, ethylene acts as a hormone and hastens ripening of fruit and, in the case of carrots, it will cause them to quickly deteriorate and make them taste bitter by producing a substance called isocoumarin.
If the green tops are still attached to the crown, that will lead to condensation inside the container or bag. The greens also draw water away from the root, so it is best to cut them from the crown as soon as they are brought home. I put a clean kitchen towel inside the bag — this wicks the water away, so the carrots don't sit in a puddle. Then I store the greens separately like herbs, with a damp paper towel in a bag or in an herb container (those special attachments that are sometimes included in refrigerators). If you decide to leave the greens attached, this wicking method will also prevent the leaves from browning quickly.
Some folks also recommend storing carrots in a bowl (or a sealed airtight container) of clean filtered water in the refrigerator. The water must be changed daily and the carrots will last for up to a week—but beyond this time period, the carrots tend to rot easily. This can be a bit cumbersome, a waste of water, and doesn't extend the shelf life of the carrots, so I don't do this.
Try this at home
An easy way to determine whether your storage method is working: Make notes comparing how limp or firm the carrot remains and any changes in weight. Over time, as the carrot ages, it will turn softer and lose weight. This occurs due to water loss from the vegetable but also due to metabolic changes taking place in the carrot. The cooler temperature of the refrigerator slows down these changes but does not completely halt them.
Place your carrots in a cooler spot in your fridge (but not in a spot where they'll freeze). Sometimes, as it is with everything in life, storage might not be perfectly efficient, and you might end up with soft carrots. If this happens, I find it best to cook those carrots right away. Use them in dishes where a crunchy texture is not needed: Roast them in the oven, blend them into a soup, toss them into a pot of stock, or make a carrot mash. And if you don't have time to cook them that day, freeze them and cook them when you need to in recipes where their texture is not important.
What's your go-to way to store carrots at home? And how long do they usually last?
- Miso Charred Carrot Soup
- Carrots Cooked Forever, à la Roy Finamore
- Georgia Freedman and Tusheng Shiguan's Carrot Greens Salad
- Smoked Carrot "Lox"
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