Did you know that all carrots including baby carrots were originally purple?
Carrots are mutants. Well, orange carrots at least. Originally, purple carrots were the norm, but there were some offshoots. Yellow and white ones appeared in the wild. In the course of time, the 17th-century Dutch carrot growers managed to cultivate those yellow and white carrots into the orange ones we are familiar with today.
Interestingly enough, the purple carrots still do exist, but they are by far the minority in the world of carrot colors. There may be a good reason why purple carrots are now the uncommon breed: the orange ones simply taste better.
In fact, orange carrots may be a “superfood” when it comes to taste. A 2010 study showed that children said foods tasted better if their favored cartoon character appeared on the box, with one food exempted: Their Majesty The Carrot!
And did you know where orange baby carrots come from?
Do not send your kids out of the room just as yet. This isn’t a story about the birds and the bees, but one about Mike Yurosek and his lumpy veggies.
Like other plants and animals, not every carrot gets the good genes and a nice environment and turns out perfect. Some of them get pulled up from the ground lumpy, twisted and just plain ugly.
Farmers know that even if an ugly carrot tastes better than any other carrot that ever existed, it won’t sell simply because it looks weird.
Every year Yurosek, a California farmer, culled and threw away tons of vegetables too ugly for supermarket shelves or farmer’s market. In some harvests, 70% of his carrots were tossed.
Most culled vegetables wind up getting fed to farm animals, but pigs and cows can only handle so many carrots! After a while, their fat turns orange, and their meat is about as useful at the meat market as a lumpy carrot is!
Mike Yurosek’s “carrot revolution”
Yurosek, in 1986, finally came up with a solution to his “ugly carrot problem.” He would cut the carrots into smaller, sleeker, better looking forms, like a plastic surgeon for vegetables.
He took the culled carrots and cut off any lumps and twisted parts. He was left with a perfect-looking mini-carrot just a few inches long, which he then peeled.
The first experiment in baby carrot-making was done by hand with a potato peeler and a paring knife. After a few batches, Yurosek was thankful to find a used industrial green bean cutter — a frozen food company had gone out of business and posted an ad — that could cut the carrots into uniform 2-inch pieces.
To finish the job, he just had to take the cut-up carrots to a packing plant and throw them into an industrial potato peeler.
Yurosek sent some samples of his little carrots along with the regular load to one of his best customers, the Vons supermarket Los Angeles.
The produce manager and the customers loved them. Yurosek has said the store called him the next day to say they wanted only the baby carrots in the next shipment.
Within a few years, more supermarkets started carrying Yurosek’s little orange carrots and the world of produce changed forever.
Yurosek died in 2005, but his name and his invention live on in the orange carrot business. Between the 2 largest carrot producers in the U.S., one continues to use a logo that Yurosek’s wife drew decades ago and one employs Yurosek’s grandson as director of agricultural operations.
Orange baby carrots, meanwhile, continue to be a multimillion dollar industry.
Orange baby carrots made in the Yurosek style are often labeled as “baby-cut” carrots in stores. There’s actually a second type of baby carrot available that’s specifically grown only to the “baby stage” and harvested long before the root reaches its mature size.
They are usually more expensive than baby-cut carrots, but fans of true “orange babies” will tell you that they are worth it and have a superior texture and sweeter taste.