Have you ever bitten into a carrot and found that it tasted peppery or “harsh”? Why are some carrots spicy, when these root vegetables are known to be sweet? Well, let’s find out!
Why are Some Carrots Spicy?
Carrots, like all other vegetables, contain several different chemical compounds. The two most common ones are sugar and terpenoids, which impart sweetness and bitterness, respectively. According to a Swiss study, harsh flavors (which some compare to turpentine or pepper) come from a volatile compound known as y-terpenene.
High sugar content will cancel out these terps, and vice versa. So carrots that are naturally high in sugars will be less bitter, and vice-versa. Interestingly, that same study mentioned above also found that organic carrots tend to have higher sugar levels than standard, commercially grown varieties. You might want to consider trying a wide assortment of these roots to weigh these results for yourself!
Related Article: Which Carrots are the Sweetest?
One of the compounds in carrots is chlorogenic acid, which is also found in coffee beans, kiwi fruit, plums, and tea. This is what gives coffee its slightly harsh, bitter flavor, and overall acidity. As you can imagine, its presence in various fruits and vegetables will also impart a similar acidic harshness. Try taking a slice of kiwi and holding it on your tongue for a few minutes. You’ll likely taste its sweetness first, followed by a slight bitter tartness… and not long afterward, it’ll start to burn.
That’s the chlorogenic acid making itself known.
Our tongues perceive this acidity as either bitter or spicy, depending on which of our taste buds are most attuned at the time. Different parts of the carrot will also have different levels of various compounds. This means that you might taste bitterness and a spicy, “peppery” flavor from one end of the carrot (usually close to where the greenery grows), while the very tip is mild and sweet.
Which Color Carrots are the Spiciest
According to scientific research, many purple carrots have higher levels of sweetness AND spiciness than many other varieties. This is likely due to the fact that they have higher concentrations of both sugar and volatile terpenoids. As a result, they offer us a vibrant tapestry of tastes and textures, neatly contained in their brightly-hued roots.
If you’re interested in growing your own carrots, please know that purple varieties aren’t any more difficult to grow than standard orange ones! Carrots are generally very simple to cultivate, but different hues mature at different rates. As such, your purple and red carrots will likely mature a few weeks later than orange or yellow ones.
Read More Here: Why are some Carrots Purple?
The “Purple Dragon” Kuroda-style carrot seems to be one of the spiciest varieties around right now. Apparently it’s also one of the most delicious! This variety has been cross-bred with a Chantenay cultivar to create a root vegetable that offers the best of both worlds. It has purple skin and outer flesh, with a bright orange core. As you can imagine, the spiciness resides around the outside, while the inside is sweet and crisp.
How amazing would these look if you put them through a spiralizer? They’d make incredible “noodles” for just about any dish, raw or cooked. Kids love bright hues too, and get super excited about dipping rainbow items into hummus, guacamole, and more.
How to Spice Up Your Carrots
If you like spicy foods, you might be disappointed at carrots’ lack of natural fire. Sure, the semi-spicy varieties mentioned above are great, but they aren’t going to make your taste buds tingle the way Tom Yam soup or Scotch bonnet peppers can.
Try teaming up your carrots with a variety of different spices and cooking techniques to add a bit more heat and zest to them. For example, try roasting them Moroccan style with paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and ginger. Alternatively, try making fiery lacto fermented pickled carrots with jalapeno peppers.
Further Reading: 13 Spices that Go with Carrots
Carrots take on a variety of different flavors really well, so be sure to get creative with your seasonings.
However you choose to celebrate these spicy roots, enjoy them! They’re as delicious as they are good for you, and eating a rainbow on a daily basis is ideal for overall health and happiness.