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Growing Carrots for Flavor

Carrot in garden1
Carrots ready for harvest
Carrots ready for harvest

Choose the carrots you want to grow by the carrot flavor you most enjoy. There are three common carrot flavor descriptors: sugary, pine-parsley, and woody.

Carrot flavor is genetically determined—some carrots will simply be sweeter than others. Growing carrots when days are warm and nights cool and growing carrots in loose, organic soil can enhance a carrot’s natural flavor—but will not make a less sweet carrot sweeter.

Some carrot varieties are more sugary, others are more parsley flavored, and others naturally woody in taste. Commonly sweet-flavored carrots are preferred for eating out of hand. All carrots when cooked will be sweeter flavored than when eaten raw; that’s because cooking weakens a carrot’s cell walls and releases the sugars inside.

All carrots mature into their flavor. They become tastier as they grow. The taste of a carrot is driven by natural chemicals.

Carrot harvest
Harvest carrots at or before maturity for best flavor.

How Carrots Get Their Flavor

Carrot flavor and aroma are made up of sugars and terpenoids. The natural sugars—sucrose, glucose, fructose, and maltose—give carrots their sweet flavor. The organic chemicals or compounds called terpenoids give carrots their characteristic aroma.

Young carrots develop terpenoids first; these are volatile compounds, meaning they are aromatic. Terpenoids can smell like pine, wood, citrus, and turpentine. A carrot harvested too early can taste bitter and soapy.

As carrots grow, natural sugars develop through photosynthesis and are stored in the root. When days are warm and nights cool, carrots make sugar during the day but do not expend that sugar energy at night. In other words, the carrot grows sweeter. (When nights are warm–60°F/15.6°F or greater, carrots respire and burn sugar energy; sweetness is not enhanced.)

Carrots are sweetest when they mature at the time of year when the days are warm and the nights are cool. As well, the best time to harvest a carrot is at the end of a warm day as it finishes manufacturing new sugars through photosynthesis.

In the life of a carrot, terpenoids-driven taste comes first and, in time, is balanced with sugar flavors. The sweet carroty flavor is the perfect combination of terpenoids and sugars.

Harvest Carrot for Flavor

You can begin to harvest carrots as soon as they are big enough to eat, but sugars concentrate as carrots mature. When a carrot reaches the peak of maturity it will be the most vibrantly colored. Depending upon the color of the carrot that may mean it will be a vibrant orange, red, yellow, purple, or white. Within two or three days of reaching full color, a carrot’s color will begin to mute and, at the same time, sugars will begin to turn to starches and in time the flavor will wane.

Cooking breaks down the terpenoids in carrots and at the same time releases natural sugars. Cooked carrots will be sweeter than raw carrots.

Frresh dug carrots at harvest time.

Sweet Tasting Carrot Varieties

You will find the carrots listed here sweet-flavored if harvest at or before maturity.

  • Bolero: sweet, juicy, crunchy, orange to 7 inches (17cm) long; 75 days to harvest; hybrid.
  • Ithaca: sweet, light taste, deep orange to 7 inches long; 65 days to harvest; hybrid.
  • Little Finger: extra sweet, orange to 3½ inches long; 65 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
  • Nantes Half Long: tender, sweet, fine-grained, nearly coreless, deep-orange to 6 inches (15cm) long; 65 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
  • Purple Dragon: sweet, rich, purple skin, yellow core, to 6 inches long; 65 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
  • Royal Chantenay: sweet, tender, reddish-orange to 6 inches (15cm) long; a good choice for heavy or shallow soils; 65 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
  • Scarlet Nantes: sweet, juicy, fine-grained, coreless, orange-red to 6 inches long; 65 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
  • Short ‘n Sweet: sweet, juicy, bright orange to 4 inches (10cm) long; a good choice for heavy soil; 65 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
  •  St. Valery: sweet, tender, little core, bright reddish-orange to 10 inches long; 70 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
  • Touchon: crisp, sweet, coreless, orange to 6 inches long; 65 days to harvest; open-pollinated.

Quick Carrot Growing Tips

  • Grow carrots in loose soil free of stone and obstacles; this will allow the roots to grow straight and unimpeded. Roots will fork if they hit an obstacle.
  • Grow carrots in soil rich in organic matter; feed carrot beds with aged compost. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers; too much nitrogen can cause carrot roots to fork. Compost is rich in phosphorus and potassium which help keep roots from becoming hard and woody.
  • Thin seedlings early and give roots room to grow; unnaturally short roots can result from overcrowding.
  • Keep the soil moisture even; splitting roots is caused by too much water followed by a dry spell.
  • Keep root tops covered with soil to avoid green shoulders and bitter flavor.

More tips: How to Grow Carrots

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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