A guide to French carrots, their different varieties and colours, a popular French expression using them and healthy carrot recipes.
French Carrot Season
Available all year round, thanks to 3 categories:
- New carrots: May - July;
- Seasonal carrots: July - October;
- Regular carrots for storing: October - March.
French Carrot Varieties
Carrots are grown mainly in the French regions of Brittany, lower Normandy and l'Aquitaine.
Many are grown in sand (carottes sables) with quality varieties such as the Carotte de Créances (AOC) and Carotte de Landes. Don't be put off by their appearance. Just wash off the sand, peel and discover their incredible flavour - sweet and slightly salty.
Parisian carrots were cultivated around the Île-de-France area since the 18th century, around Seine-Sait-Denis, Seine et Marne, and in Chatou, Montesson and Croissy near Saint-Germain-en-Laye. 3 varieties include:
- la carotte ronde - extra sweet, small and round with a diameter of 3-4cm;
- la carotte rouge de Meaux (Seine-et-Marne);
- la carotte de Croissy - very light red in colour with a yellow interior.
Although no longer grown here, every September, Croissy celebrates la fête de la carotte.
The carottes fanes are the bunches of organic carrots with their tickly green feathered tops (like the carotte de Croissy). For sustainable cooking, don't throw the green tops out - wash them and add to soups or snip them up with scissors and add to salads. Don't get excited, as their flavour isn't up to anything much but it looks good!
Health Benefits of Carrots
Carrots contain up to 85% water, and are one of the sweetest vegetables.
An anti-oxidant, they contain Vitamins B1, B2 and C.
Purple carrots have more beta carotene than orange carrots.
They have up to 28 times more anthocyanins to make them purple - it's the same pigment found in blueberries. These act as powerful antioxidants that protect the body.
According to Aprifel for the French Ministry of Agriculture, studies have shown that purple carrots give us extra protection against various forms of cancer, heart disease and are good anti inflammatory agents.
Are Carrots Originally Purple?
Like white carrots, purple carrots were around much earlier than orange carrots. They were popular around Afghanistan then the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe about 9000 years ago.
Purple, along with black, yellow, red and white were all popular carrots until as late as the 16th Century. At this time, the orange carrot was created by the Dutch crossing a red and white variety.
In the 16th century, the orange ‘Longue Orange’ carrot was created by the protestant fan club under the ‘House of Orange’ (source: Museum of Carrots – sadly, it no longer seems to exist online). Orange carrots' advantage is that they don't lose a lot of their colour (like the purple variety) when cooked.
Slang French Expression With Carrots
"Les carottes sont cuites"Often heard by French commentators during football and rugby matches
Popular expression from the 19th Century meaning "That's the end of that" or "It's finished" (literally translated as the carrots are cooked).
'La Carotte' Sign in France
Since 1906, the official red French sign for the Tabac (tobacconist) is called la Carotte.
I discovered this at the ex-tabac factory (now an open-air museum) in Morlaix (Finistère, Brittany). La Carotte's sign is bright red in order to be seen clearly - perhaps carrot coloured? Apart from that, I have no idea why it's called la carotte, as tabac is far from healthy but probably a sign to draw you in.
What Goes with Carrots?
Carrots are delicious peeled and grated raw, tossed in a little walnut oil and topped with toasted walnuts and golden sultana raisins.
Add a large carrot to this French Pea Soup and it takes it to another level.
Ideally made with fresh peas (according to history), this soup is also great made with frozen or split peas at any time of year. The classic French carrot soup made much in the same style as this is le potage Crécy.
French Carrot Recipes
Carrots are used in so many classic French recipes. Added towards the start of cooking in soups and casseroles, they give a slightly sweet characteristic - almost earthy.
Best Way to Cook Carrots - Glazed French Vichy Style
According to Auguste Escoffier in his French chef cookery bible (1903), carrots only have one way of being prepared as a side dish. Today, this method is more widely known as carottes glacées (glazed carrots).
Top with chopped fresh parsley and this is carottes à la Vichy or Vichy carrots (in English).
Carrots are one of the major ingredients in a classic Coq au Vin.
This recipe is our best version, as the whole lot is marinated overnight as opposed to made in a hurry with not much flavour. The result is a casserole full of flavour plus meat so tender, it melts in the mouth.
Thickly sliced, slightly at an angle, carrots are one of the main ingredients of the French Blanquette de Veau, the classic veal stew.
Added at the beginning of cooking, it gives the stew its characteristic flavour.
Back to my British roots, carrot cake is becoming more popular around French tea rooms in Paris. Make your own carrot cake muffins with tons of grated carrots and half fat cream cheese with orange in the frosting.
Taking the cake one step further - make a moist purple carrot cake. With the flavour of orange, this is incredibly lush and moreish.