The Origin and Evolution of Baby Carrots
Baby carrots first appeared in US supermarkets in 1989. There are two types - true baby carrots, and manufactured baby carrots.
Baby carrots have become a lunch box staple. Parents love them for their convenience and because they’re seen as a healthy food choice. Kids love them because they’re sweet and fun to eat. But what’s the real deal behind baby carrots? After all, they’re not like regular carrots. They’re perfectly shaped with rounded edges; they don’t have the same thick core; and, even peeled, they are bright orange. A quick Google search of baby carrots turns up some frightening information, and mis-information, on how they are made and whether they are really “soaked in chlorine.”
Strictly "baby" means immature, pulled from the ground before they reach full
size. Originally that was the case, nowadays they have developed miniature
strains which are mature when small in stature!
Real baby carrots (miniature version of full size) are what they are, about 3 or
4 inches in length.
Baby "style" cut carrots (those whittled down from larger carrots) started off
by the "inventor" as being approx 2 inches in the 1980's, and have remained so,
more or less, ever since.
Here is the Carrot Museum take on it all.
|True Baby Carrots
In the 1980's supermarkets expected carrots to be a particular size, shape, and colour. Anything else had to be sold for juice or processing or animal feed, or just thrown away. One farmer wondered what would happen if he peeled the skin off the gnarly carrots, cut them into pieces, and sold them in bags. He made up a few test batches to show his buyers. One batch, cut into 1-inch bites and peeled round, he called "bunny balls." Another batch, peeled and cut 2 inches long, looked like little baby carrots.
Bunny balls never made it. But baby carrots were a hit. They transformed the whole industry.
A "true" baby carrot is a carrot grown to the "baby stage", which is to say long before the root reaches its mature size. The test is can you see a proper "shoulder" on each carrot. These immature roots are preferred by some people out of the belief that they are superior either in texture, nutrition or taste.
They are also sometimes harvested simply as the result of crop thinning, but are also grown to this size as a specialty crop. Certain cultivars of carrots have been bred to be used at the "baby" stage. One such cultivar is 'Amsterdam Forcing'. You will see them in the stores and are normally very expensive and displayed with some of the green showing to "prove" they are a "real" carrot.
There is also a baby variety called Thumbelina, or Paris Market shaped like a golf ball.
Manufactured Baby Carrots (the most common)
Most baby carrots sold in U.S. and U.K. supermarkets are really what the industry calls “baby cuts” – made from longer carrots that have been peeled and cut into a smaller size. These carrots have been specifically bred to be smaller in diameter, coreless and sweeter than regular carrots.
"Manufactured" baby carrots , or cut and peel, are what you see most often in the shops - are carrot shaped slices of peeled carrots invented in the late 1980's by Mike Yurosek, a California farmer, as a way of making use of carrots which are too twisted or knobbly for sale as full-size carrots. Yurosek was unhappy at having to discard as much as 400 tonnes of carrots a day because of their imperfections, and looked for a way to reclaim what would otherwise be a waste product. He was able to find an industrial green bean cutter, which cut his carrots into 5 cm lengths, and by placing these lengths into an industrial potato peeler, he created the baby carrot.
The much decreased waste is also used either for juicing or as animal fodder. Perhaps most important, the baby-cut method allows growers to use far more of the carrot than they used to. In the past, a third or more of a carrot crop could have been easily tossed away, but baby-cut allows more partial carrots to be used, and the peeling process actually removes less of the outer skin that you might imagine. They are sold in single-serving packs with ranch dressing for dipping on the side. They're passed out on airplanes and sold in plastic containers designed to fit in a car's cup holder. At Disney World, and MacDonald's burgers now come two ways: with fries or baby carrots.
There is nothing "wrong" with manufactured baby carrots. They are a food that humans have enjoyed for centuries, probably millennia, chock-full of goodness that we need to keep our bodies functioning. Mr Yurosek died in 2005. Read the full story here.
Baby carrot products have been the fastest growing segment of the carrot industry since the early 1990s and are among the most popular produce items in the supermarket aisle – more than potatoes and celery, according to a 2007 USDA report.
Transformed to the core The baby-cut boom also transformed the industry from its roots up. Before, growers were more interested in a bulky carrot with more of a tapered shape. But those were hard to chop into baby shape, so plant breeders worked to create varieties that were longer and narrower, allowing a producer to get four cuts instead of three on each carrot root, which is the part of the plant we eat.
They also found they could limit the diameter size of carrots by increasing the density with which they were planted — a discovery that helped them harvest more carrots per acre. (This sort of change wasn’t new for carrot growers: Up to the 1950s, when carrots were sold with their leaves intact, they were bred for hearty leaf growth. That stopped after grocers started selling just roots.)
Today’s carrot is also now bred for uniform colour. Because the cutting process exposes much of the root to the buyer’s eye, producers don’t want their bags of carrots to be collared like a paint palette. With baby carrots or cut-and-peel carrots, you can see the core of every chunk,. The growers would like every carrot in that bag to look like every other one. Growers also obsess about texture and taste. You might find carrots far sweeter than they were in the past, and that’s intentional. Researchers found much of their appeal as a snack came from their sweetness, especially for perennially sweet-toothed kids, and bred them to have more natural sugar and less of the harsh taste that comes if you do a poor job of peeling.
Today specific cultivars are grown to create the now ubiquitous baby carrot. Farmers want a carrot that is about five-eighths inches in diameter, 14 inches long that they can cut into four pieces to make baby carrots.
In order to create thinner vegetables, baby carrots are planted closer together than traditional carrots. In as little as 120 days from planting, the carrots are dug up and trucked to the processing house to be cut and peeled. But before packaging, all carrots receive a brisk scrub accompanied by a chlorine bath.
Borda says Grimmway Farms, whose labels include Cal-Organic, uses a chlorine solution on all its carrots – organic and non-organic -- to prevent food poisoning, before a final wash in water. Grimmway says the chlorine rinse is well within limits set by the EPA and is comparable to levels found in tap water.
Ashley Bade, nutritionist and founder of Honest Mom Nutrition, says the chlorine bath is a standard practice in many pre-cut food items. “The chlorine-water solution is a needed step in the process to limit the risk of food-borne illnesses such as E.coli,” she says.
The new varieties’ names reflect the change in growers’ needs: Prime Cut, Sweet Cuts, Morecuts.
What is perhaps most important, the baby-cut method allows growers to use far more of the carrot than they used to. In the past, a third or more of a carrot crop could have been easily tossed away, but baby-cut allows more partial carrots to be used, and the peeling process actually removes less of the outer skin that you might imagine — in part because growers, who are selling by weight, don’t want to take off more than they need to.
And what’s left over after the initial processing can still be used in even smaller products, or squeezed for juice.
There is no doubt that baby carrots are a fun snack and are a great way to introduce healthy foods into the often French fry, and fast food driven diets of children and teenagers, because from the snacking perspective, they are convenient and satisfying, for all ages.
Read more here on the processes involved in the production of baby carrots. "Where do baby carrots come from? Behind the scenes at a baby carrot harvest."
Watch a video of how the process works and how baby carrots are "made".
Vanmark Equipment LLC is one of the world's leading manufacturers of carrot processing equipment. Millions of pounds of carrots processed in the United States go through Vanmark’s peelers/washers before making their way to consumers. Vanmark makes equipment for cleaning and polishing carrots of all sizes as well as processing and shaping product sold as baby carrots. Our equipment can use a two part process to first remove material from full size cut carrots and then shape and smooth the pieces into a rounded, distinctive baby carrot shape. Watch the machine in action here
(Source Vanmark equipment website)
What happens to the left over pieces of carrots?
It mainly goes to animal feed, though I also know of some, where it can go to juice and for pulping into baby foods/soups etc. There seems to be two attitudes - 1. it is "waste" (for animal feed). 2. It has a commercial value and is passed on to the food processing industry.
The problem is that the cutting down/shaving process is designed to do just that, it is rarely commercially viable to ensure the shavings are collected effectively to remain clean and safe to pass on to the food industry. It's ok for animals!.
Because it is not a consistent left over, in terms of size, the cuttings do not go to salads or other fresh products. The carrot cake producers buy shredded carrot made from whole big carrots as it easier to process that way and you get more for your money.
The "waste" is becoming less and less as the machines get more efficient. For example many of the modern computer/laser guided machines can make 3 babies out of one carrot.
How a typical carrot is processed to maximise use for human consumption
If you were to divide up a typical 8 and ½ inch carrot it would typically be processed in such a manner that only about the very top half inch goes to animal feed. This is at the crown end. The point end quarter of the remaining carrot goes to making those tiny, baby carrots. The central portions are processed either to make “standard” cut or peel baby carrots or sent for juice making. The thickest part goes off to be processed into juice concentrate to be further sliced or diced into fresh pre-packs.
From Field to Supermarket Shelf
People sometimes find that baby carrots turn slimy in the fridge, very soon after storage. They are going off due to poor storage conditions, post harvest. If you eat them you run the risk of food poisoning (usually from ecoli or salmonella bacteria). It happens to baby carrots more than normal carrots because of the additional processing involved. Baby cut carrots are made from longer carrots. The skin is taken off and then longer carrots are cut into smaller "baby" carrots. The skin (as in humans!) is there for a reason, a protective layer. These baby carrots are then washed in a chlorine solution before a final wash in potable water. This process is an attempt to ward off early degradation of the baby carrots.
Most carrots are kept and processed in near freezing conditions and once they leave the packing plants experience warmer temperatures which encourage bacterial growth. Storage conditions in supermarkets is far from ideal, in many cases.In the case of slimy carrots (baby or otherwise) one has to err on the side of caution and throw them away.
It all began in the mid 80's ago when Mike Yurosek of Newhall, California got
tired of seeing 400 tons of carrots a day drop down the cull chute at his
packing plant in Bakersfield. Culls are carrots that are too twisted, knobbly,
bent or broken to sell. In some loads, as many as 70% of carrots were tossed.
The entertainment giant picked one, and Bunny-Luv lived on for the price of a
The farmer continued growing carrots, and throwing them out, for decades. But in
1986, Yurosek had the idea that would change American munching habits.
California's Central Valley is dotted with farms, fruit and vegetable
processors, and freezing plants. Yurosek knew full well that freezers routinely
cut up his long, well-shaped carrots into cubes, coins and mini-carrots. "If
they can do that, why can't we, and pack 'em fresh?" he wondered.
Next, he sent one of his workers to a packing plant and loaded the cut-up
carrots into an industrial potato peeler to take off the peel and smooth down
the edges. What he ended up with was a little rough but still recognizable as
the baby carrot of today.
The babies were an economic powerhouse. Stores paid 10 cents a bag for whole carrots and sold them for 17 cents. They paid 50 cents for a 1-pound package of baby carrots and sold them for $1. By 1989, more markets were on board, and the baby-carrot juggernaut had begun.
Today, these "babies" come from one main place in the US: Bakersfield,
California. The state produces almost three-quarters of U.S. carrots because of
its favourable climate and deep, not-too-heavy soil. Every day, somewhere in the
state, carrots are either being planted or harvested (20 million pounds in
The baby-cut boom transformed the industry from its roots up. Before, growers were more interested in a bulky carrot with more of a tapered shape. But those were hard to chop into baby shape, so plant breeders worked to create varieties that were longer and narrower, allowing a producer to get four cuts instead of three on each carrot root, which is the part of the plant we eat. They also found they could limit the diameter size of carrots by increasing the density with which they were planted — a discovery that helped them harvest more carrots per acre.
Mr Yurosek is often referred to as the "Father of Baby Carrots". By simply
cutting carrots into 2-inch sections, he won a well-earned place in agricultural
history. Equally deserved is his legacy in business lore. Yurosek transformed an
industry by addressing a common problem. Whereas most growers focused their
energies on production excellence, Yurosek addressed another ingredient required
for success: customer relevance. Sadly he died of cancer in 2005.
The Baby Carrot industry has been successfully rejuvenated in 2010 by the introduction of "Eat'em Like Junk Food" campaign, following the recent trend of fast food outlets trying to gain new customers by extolling the virtues of the healthiness of their offerings. Read more here.
Why is one little carrot so important?
The greatest health benefits come from eating a wide variety
of fruits and vegetables. The American Institute for Cancer Research has
estimated that a diet high in a variety of fruits and vegetables may prevent 20
to 33 percent of lung cancers.
Over 40 brands are sold, marketed under such names as Premier and Bunny-Luv, and more modern names to reflect what the consumer wants, like Prime Cut, Sweet Cuts, Morecuts. The market now also covers things such as baby-cut but also sticks, chips, dipping packages, shredded carrots and juice.
There appear to be endless, indeed, packaged carrot products have become so ubiquitous that the industry has levelled off in per-capita consumption. Americans are still eating 50 percent more carrots than they were, but ironically, the carrot has regained such an important position on the shopping list that some in the industry worry it could be losing its value as a premium product. (And some of that drop, they point out, could also be because peeled products actually offer more edible carrot per pound. Buying less doesn’t mean eating less.)
With that in mind, researchers are always looking for ways to spice up the carrot. Producers want to darken the colour of carrots, not just for aesthetics but also because the deeper orange signals more beta-carotene, an antioxidant that serves as one of the best sources of vitamin A, for which carrots are renowned. Scientists are pushing has pushed the colour curve - producing white, red and purple carrots that are actually the colours of the roots were originally grown 1,000 years ago. The rainbow colours give growers still more marketing options - especially for kids, who seem drawn to items that look like someone was having fun with crayons - and could even be mixed together in a variety pack. Look for a Rainbow Pack at a store near you!
In 2009, after a decade of steady growth, Bolthouse's carrot sales went flat. Sales of baby carrots, the company's cash carrot, actually fell, sharply, and stayed down. Nobody knew why. This was a big problem. After a series of focus groups and surveys something interesting was discovered. People said they were eating as many carrots as they always had. But the numbers clearly showed they were buying fewer. What people meant, it turned out, was they were as likely as ever to keep carrots in the fridge. When the recession hit, though, they became more likely to buy regular carrots, instead of baby carrots, to save money. But people used to eating baby carrots weren't taking the time to wash and cut the regular ones. And unlike baby carrots, which dry out pretty quickly once a bag is opened, regular carrots keep a long time. So people were buying regular carrots and then not eating them, and not buying more until the carrots they had were finally gone or spoiled.
Bolthouse had never marketed its baby carrots. It just sent truckloads to supermarkets, where they got piled up in the produce aisle. A new advertising campaign was needed.
The concept was "To have a great advertising idea, you have to get at the truth of the product. The truth about baby carrots is they possess many of the defining characteristics of our favourite junk food. They're neon orange, they're crunchy, they're dippable, they're kind of addictive - They're just cool and part of your life. If Doritos can sell cheeseburger-flavoured Doritos, we can sell baby carrots." A new jazzy packaging portfolio was created, aimed primarily at junk food addicts and it soon became a roaring success.
(The above information is taken from a more detailed piece by Douglas McGray writing for the Fast Company - read the full article )
$25m campaign to Get Kids to Eat Carrots by branding them like junk food - According to USA Today, a group of producers will unveil a sophisticated media campaign designed to drive a wedge between the munching public and our snack foods, a wedge in the shape of a carrot. This campaign will include repackaging carrots for school vending machines in bags that resemble Doritos (both orange, little-finger size, crunchy, so consumers probably won't even notice the difference, right?) (Left, Halloween "Scarrots" 2010)
|A few words of warning, and the viable alternative - Citrox!
Baby carrots are not as nutritious as full whole carrots, because a lot of the goodness in carrots is contained in the skin and just below it. This is removed in the baby carrot making process.
After harvesting, the carrots are mainly washed in chlorinated water, just like our drinking water, and cleaned to remove dirt and mud. Some finished baby carrots are washed, or dipped, by a further chlorine solution to prevent white blushing once in the store. There is no evidence that this is harmful, but it is worth knowing about!. The truth is that baby carrots are no different from packaged lettuce or any other prepared produce -- like bagged lettuce—you find in the grocery store.
However organic growers use a citrus based non toxic solution called Citrox (The ProGarda™), the natural alternative to synthetic biocides for the decontamination of fresh produce, food and beverages. Citrox technology incorporates a truly holistic approach designed to increase the effectiveness and profitability of food and beverage production processes. A brief overview of this product here.
All Citrox products are made from natural extracts or naturally derived compounds. Some of them are permitted for use in organic production (e.g.: fruit & vegetable decontaminant) or certified organic (e.g.: pre-harvest treatment products). All the Citrox derivatives are completely non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, non-corrosive, and non-tainting in use. They can actually be added to foodstuffs. They are formed by the bioflavonoid extracts and a range of completely natural organic acids, this combination having highly synergistic effects in all their many applications. The ProGarda™ decontaminant range has been specifically formulated for the decontamination of fruits and vegetables. These products are viable alternatives to the use of chlorine (or other compounds or systems) for decontaminating fresh fruits and vegetables. More about Citrox here.
According to Randy Worobo, an associate professor of food microbiology at Cornell University, you need not worry. As reported in Prevention magazine, he says carrots are not preserved in bleach but rinsed in a chlorine wash that's recommended by the FDA to kill bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli. Most pre-cut produce, including frozen vegetables and fruit salad, is washed with this or similar sanitizers.
Baby Cut and Peeled Carrots are treated with chlorine. It is used as an anti-microbial treatment to control potential contamination in the finished product. Carrots that are treated with chlorine are subsequently soaked and rinsed with potable water to remove the excess chlorine before being packaged.
Sanitizers that can be used to wash or to assist in lye peeling of fruits and vegetables are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in accordance with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act as outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Ch. 1, Section 173.315.
Chlorine is routinely used as a sanitizer in wash, spray, and flume waters used in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. Anti-microbial activity depends on the amount of free available chlorine (as hypochlorous acid) in water that comes in contact with microbial cells. The effectiveness of chlorine in killing pathogenic micro organisms has been extensively studied."
Also read what Bolthouse, a leading producer in the US has to say, here.
More on the Chlorine scare
What about the chlorine? Some carrots are washed with chlorinated water. This water must have a pH (acidity) between 6.0 and 7.0. The concentration of chlorine in the water should be between 100 and 150 ppm (parts per million). The time of contact between the carrots and the chlorinated water should not exceed 5 minutes. This must be removed from the carrots by rinsing with potable water or using a centrifugal drier. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the use of chlorine as a antimicrobial treatment is a current accepted practice in the processing for all fresh cut ready-to-eat vegetables.
This ‘Chlorine’ is most likely sodium hypochlorite also known as chlorine bleach. It is used as a disinfectant and antimicrobial in many industries. It is made by reacting a sodium hydroxide solution (also know as caustic soda or lye) with elemental chlorine gas. All of these chemicals are made from sodium chloride, also known as salt. Next time do some research look up cholera if you want a glimpse of what the world was like before the wide availability of chlorine disinfection!
Like other ready-to-eat fresh vegetables, baby-cut carrots are rinsed or sprayed with very diluted chlorine to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination, and then thoroughly washed and bagged. This process is approved by the FDA and accepted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, with strict rules for what concentration of chlorine can be used and how long the carrots can be exposed. Chlorine is similarly used as a disinfectant in public water supplies and sometimes in poultry processing. It is toxic at high concentrations, but there is no evidence that trace amounts left on food and in water are harmful to health.
Is this dangerous? Chlorination is a well-known and well-tested way to
disinfect food products. Our tap water is chlorinated as well. When you
disinfect something, that means that you kill the bacteria that are present.
Chlorine kills bacteria. It can also kill us, or be very bad for us. The bleach
you use to clean and disinfect your toilet, contains chlorine. Do not drink it.
This will kill you because it is far more concentrated than we can safely
ingest. The diluted chlorine in your tap water and in your baby-carrots, presents no
danger whatsoever. It is precisely to make the carrots safe that the chlorine is
The solution used to wash carrots is NOT the same as in swimming pools.
It is caused by drying of the damaged (peeled) tissue as the carrots are exposed to air. During storage air can dry out the surface of carrots due to lack of humidity. The carrots may also shrivel due to the lack of moisture. In contrast, whole carrots retain their protective peel, so it takes longer for this problem to occur in them.
It is simply the carrot drying out. Try it out for yourself. Take a fresh, normal carrot and cut it in half. Wait. The same white covering (which is officially called white blush) will appear on the cut. Baby carrots will show a lot more white blush for a very simple reason: their skin has been removed and therefore, the entire carrot dries out. Methods of inhibiting the formation of white blush discoloration on freshly processed carrots.
When many fruits (i.e., apples, pears, peaches, avocados, and bananas) and vegetables (i.e., beans, potatoes, mushrooms and many root crops) are bruised, or are cut, peeled, or processed in any other way that causes tissue injury, a black or brown discoloration appears at the site of the tissue injury within a few minutes due to enzymes of the melanosis reaction. This discoloration problem has been the subject of much study, because of its obvious economic importance to the food processing industry.
Unlike other fruit and vegetables as detailed above, carrots do not develop black or brown discolorations after suffering tissue injuries due to enzymes of the melanosis reaction. Consequently, the carrot is an ideal vegetable to process shortly after harvest into a form that is ready for consumption. Of the estimated 3 billion pounds of carrots that are marketed in the United States each year, approximately 20% are peeled soon after harvest to be sold as fresh miniature carrots, carrot sticks, carrot coins, carrot shreds, and other forms of fresh processed carrots.
Whole, unprocessed carrots may be stored under refrigeration for many weeks without significantly deteriorating. However, freshly processed carrots that have been in refrigerated storage for just a few days begin to develop a whitish, chalk-like appearance on their abraded surfaces. In the carrot processing industry, this whitish, chalk-like appearance is known as "white blush."
The rate at which white blush appears on processed carrots is a function of the physiological condition of the whole carrots prior to processing, the degree of abrasiveness that was present in the processing, the chemical treatments that were applied to the carrots, if any, and the humidity levels and the temperatures at which the carrots have been stored. For example, variations in the physiology of the whole, unprocessed carrots caused by different degrees of environmental stresses during the growing period, such as heat stress and drought stress, will result in variations in the onset of white blush formation under given storage conditions. Carrots that were grown in poorly irrigated fields tend to form white blush discoloration more rapidly, than do processed carrots that were grown in well irrigated fields.
White blush discolourisation is unsightly and unappetizing. As a result, consumers invariably associate white blush with distastefully old carrots, even though the taste and nutritional value of processed carrots are not affected by the appearance of white blush. This fact leads to significant commercial waste when processed carrots are pulled from the shelf due to the appearance of white blush even though taste and nutrition are not being effected.
To date, white blush has been controlled primarily by washing freshly processed carrots with chilled water, usually in a hydro cooler, followed by refrigeration and/or by packaging of the freshly processed carrots in specialised containers, including some that maintain modified atmospheres within the containers. Chlorine has also been added to the chilled water treatments for sanitation purposes, and primarily to control microbial bacteria growth on the processed carrots. However, depending upon the above variables, the onset of white blush may only be delayed for a few days. Therefore baby carrots tend to have a shorter shelf life.
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