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The carrot plant, Daucus carota, is native to Afghanistan and surrounding regions, but has been cultivated in the Mediterranean since antiquity and from there gradually spread across the globe. The part of the plant commonly eaten as a vegetable is the long, narrow taproot that extends into the ground directly beneath the stem.
In the United States, the taproot is traditionally bright orange, but carrots also naturally grow in white, yellow, and even deep purple hues, though their taste and beta-carotene content vary somewhat from the orange versions that most typically appear in supermarkets. The carrot plant is very aromatic and is a relative of parsley, celery, and dill plants. Accordingly, the green, leafy above-ground portion of the carrot plant is just as edible as its taproot, but is not often consumed by humans.
Cool to moderate weather is best suited for growing carrots, and most of those purchased in the United States are cultivated in California and Michigan. For about the last fifty years, almost all American carrots have been packaged in plastic bags with their green tops removed before being sold. In some stores, carrots with their greenery left intact may be purchased, but generally at greater expense. The greenery, when bright and crisp, is considered a good indicator of the freshness of the vegetable, which tends to soften, crack, and shrivel with age or poor handling.
Carrots have a higher sugar content than any other vegetable except the beet. Most of the sugar in a carrot is stored in the outer portion of the taproot. Therefore, carrots with large fibrous cores are not as sweet as those with smaller cores. Overall, mature carrots are usually sweeter than young ones, though younger carrots tend to be more tender.
Nathan S. Claxton, Shannon H. Neaves, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.