A bag of perfect ‘baby’ carrots
I was looking at prize exhibition parsnips this week. It’s not something I usually hang my nose over but I was interested in some of the growing methods that are used to product the long tapering roots worthy of being a competition winner. It seems the best method is growing them in 50 gallon drums filled with mostly sand.
All of the obsessive allotmenteers who take part in this type of growing have their own secret additives but I did find out that the 2015 winner of the Dublin City scheme added vermiculite, ground limestone, calcified seaweed, compost and a top dressing of a granulated organic fertilizer. Of course I couldn’t find out the quantities so you’ll have to experiment if you want to be up there with the best.
I mentioned a while ago about the sorry state of the root vegetable market. One point in particular was that farms producing parsnips actually look for “good” parsnips as they go along the production line and all of the rest are discarded and dug back into the earth. It’s the same with carrots and has been for a while as the retailers are convinced that we will only but vegetables if they are “perfect” with no blemishes or irregular bits sticking out.
This is by no means a recent phenomenon. One American farmer back in the early 80’s by the name of Mike Yurosek realised that a lot of his carrots weren’t going to market because of their shape. The carrot business in the US was stagnant and wasteful, growing seasons were long, and more than half of what farmers grew was misshapen and like the UK market, retailers thought that customers wouldn’t buy them. So Yurosek, itching for a way to make use of all the misshapen carrots, tried something new. Instead of tossing them out, he carved them into something more palatable looking.
At first, he used a potato peeler, which didn't quite work because the process was too labourious. But then he bought an industrial green-bean cutter. The machine cut the carrots into uniform 2-inch pieces. They have proved to be just the right size as they just fit into your mouth.
The ‘unsightly’ carrots are milled, sculpted and standardized serving as an example of how disconnected we can be as at first glance (or second) you can’t tell them apart from actual whole peeled carrots.
Yurosek didn’t really know how these modified shapes would go down with his regular retailers so he delivered a few bags to a local shop. He suspected he was on to something, but hardly anticipated such an enthusiastic response. The shop phoned him the next day and told him that “We only want those.” From there most of his other customers went the same way.
The little carrot sculptures (or baby CUT carrots, as they're sometimes called to clarify, because they are actually NOT baby carrots) not only revived a once struggling carrot industry in America, but they also helped both curb waste on the farm and sell the Vitamin D-filled vegetables at the supermarkets. Today, baby carrots such as these dominate the carrot industry in the US. The packaged orange snacks are now responsible for almost 70 per cent of all carrot sales and we are not too far behind as more and more shops and cafes are selling them – because they are just so convenient.
Why are these types of carrots so popular now? Maybe as we find ourselves with less time to sit down at restaurants or even cook at home, convenience has guided all sorts of decisions about food, especially when there is an option that requires little more than opening a packet. The fact that you don't have to peel them, wash them or chop them makes the carrot pieces an ideal healthy snack, in fact they are advertised as an alternative to junk food, rather than a different way to eat carrots. The packaging was changed to mirror that used for crisps. “Eat ’Em Like Junk Food,” went the TV adverts, which boosted sales by 13%.
At a time when most ugly vegetables go to waste, ugly carrots are carved, sold at a premium and marketed as ‘Ready Prepared Mini Carrots’. It’ll be interesting to see if we can convince our young to pick up a snack pack of carrots over a packet of crisps or a bar of chocolate. We should never underestimate the power of advertising; it might come although I think it might be a huge challenge making carved parsnips a popular snack.
I’m just wondering too where all of the carrot peelings go after they have gone through the machine at the factory? All I know is that my scabby, dirty, misshapen carrot peelings go back into my garden via the compost bin, which is a good place for them to go.