Have you ever bitten into a carrot, expecting juicy, crunchy sweetness, only to discover that it tastes bitter or soapy? That happens more often than you may have thought! Read on to learn why this happens, how to avoid it in your homegrown crops, and how to adjust the flavors while you’re cooking.
Why are Some Carrots Bitter While Others Are Sweet?
The main reason has to do with the season in which they’re grown.
Carrots are cool-weather crops. This means that their ideal growth period is either early to mid spring, or autumn. Those that are grown in these cooler seasons end up being sweet, crisp, and delectable.
In contrast, carrots grown in the middle of the summer are usually quite bitter.
As we’ve mentioned in other articles, carrots create sugars over the course of the day via photosynthesis. These sugary carbohydrates get stored in their roots (the crunchy, colorful bits we like to eat).
Read More Here: Why are Some Carrots Sweeter than Others?
On cool spring and fall evenings, the carrot roots go into stasis. As a result, they don’t use up those sugars: they just sit in the roots, waiting to be used the following day when the carrot grows again. Or, if they’re picked in the early to mid evening, they’ll be enjoyed by the people (or animals) who have dug them up.
During hot summer nights, carrot roots end up sweating instead of sleeping. And what do you think is released as they sweat? If you guessed “their sugary deliciousness”, you are quite correct. All those glorious sugars end up seeping out into the surrounding soil, rather than being stored in the carrots’ cells. Take a moment to weep for that loss if you need to.
Other Reasons Why Carrots May be Bitter
In addition to being grown and harvested at the wrong time of year, there are other factors that can contribute to blargh-tasting carrots.
For example, if carrots are picked too early, they can be bitter or soapy tasting. This is because the sugars in their roots develop over time. Quite simply, when they’re harvested before they’ve had a chance to mature, those sugars haven’t had the opportunity to accumulate yet.
Carrots get their flavor by a combination of different chemical compounds. For instance, their unique flavor is due to a combination of sugar and terpenoids. If the carrot is harvested too early, then there’s a higher concentration of terps rather than sugars. One way to tell whether carrots are at their ideal sweetness is to look at their tops: right where they attach to the frilly greenery. If that area is orange rather than green, they’ll taste amazing. In contrast, if they’re greenish rather than orange, then they’ll be sad and disappointing.
Another factor that can contribute to carroty bitterness is how you store your root vegetables. If you store your carrots next to fruits or vegetables that produce ethylene gas, those roots are likely to go bitter really quickly.
Fruits and veg that release this gas can accelerate rot in other species. Furthermore, ethylene encourages terpenoid production.
That bag of carrots you brought home might have had optimal sweetness when you bought them, but storing them next to tomatoes, avocadoes, bananas, and other gassy fruits will make them taste rather foul.
How Can You Make These Carrots Less Bitter?
There are two basic ways to reduce the bitterness or “soapy” flavor these carrots may have. One is to soak them in a few changes of water that’s had some sugar added to it.
Dissolve about a tablespoon of sugar in a bit of hot water, then add about three cups cold water to that. Peel your carrots and immerse them in this water, then place them on the kitchen counter. Carrots absorb water quite enthusiastically, and will suck up that sugar along with the vital fluid.
Related Article: Which Carrots are the Sweetest?
The other method is to cook them, sometimes with added sweetener if needed. Cooking carrots always makes them sweeter, because the cooking process breaks down the carrots’ cells as well as those bitter terpenoids mentioned earlier. This process releases all those sugary carbohydrates, which will reduce bitterness and sweeten the roots.
If the carrots are still too bitter for your liking, you can cook them with added sugars. Some people use maple, agave, birch, or simple sugar syrup. Alternatively, these carrots may work well in a Tunisian salad, which uses orange juice to amp sweetness, or transformed into a curried soup. For the latter, you can add whatever sweetener you like. In fact, consider adding some sweet potato or acorn squash for additional, natural sugars.