Carrots and a contest!

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We start today this new section in incuQIna as we are convinced that the first step to cook well is to know the building bricks of our dishes. So, every month we’ll talk about a specific aliment, our Anna will discuss about nutritional facts (according to both western and Chinese medicine terms), together with some curiosities (Fun Facts!) and some history. We hope this will make the food  that every day nourishes our bodies even more interesting.

Moreover, each month we will have a contest around the ingredient of the month! We want to know what is your favorite way of eating and cooking it, your best recipe with it. We’ll choose the best one and make it ourself for incuQIna, and the winner will get a real price (Surprise!).

To participate, send your recipe to our mail address incuqina@gmail.com, or comment below here, or write us on facebook before the 25th of march! We are looking forward to reading your recipes!!

Carrots,

what do you see if you cut them in half? An eye, and that’s just not a coincidence.

If we give a kid a blank sheet and a pen and ask him to drow a vegetable, chances are high that he would drow a beautiful carrot. In fact, maybe because of their vivid colors and sweet taste, they are one of the few vegetables kids actually like. Carrots are also one of the first food proposed during weaning from breastfeeding, so their popularity might be linked to the memory of one of the first new tastes we encounter when we are just babies. We thus decided to start our new section of incuQIna with discovering more about these vegetables that we had been eating and knowing since our childhood.

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do you see the eye?

History 

Their scientific name is Dacus carota (from greek dakkos, wild plant), and tassonomicaly carrots belong to the same family of celery, fennel and parsley: Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae) whose distinctive characteristic is the umbrella-shaped inflorescence.  They have nothing to do with the so similar parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) but these two vegetables have always been confused with each othe and this makes hard to understand how they were selected and domesticated.

What we surely know is that the carrots that we cultivate and eat nowadays (Daucus carota, sativus) derive from the old wild carrot and spread around Europe and some regions of central Asia already during the Mesolithic. Wild carrots were whitish or purple and had many, thin roots. The carrot as we know it came out only thank to processes of selection started around 1000 years ago in Afghanistan.

We have now two main types of cultivated carrots:

  • the oriental one, purple/yellowish in color containing a high amount of anthocyanins
  • the occidental one, derived from the former, diffused in Turkey and around the Mediterranean, reddish in color because containing a high amount of carotene.

It seems like Egyptians and Greeks were mainly eating the seeds but also the roots. Carrots were used as a medicament with aphrodisiac and warming qualities. They were definitely growing in the gardens of the ancient Rome, and, as indicated in “De materia medica” from Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-90 dc), used as a remedy for intoxication; they were one of the many ingredients of the universal antidote mithridatium.

Only recently (XVI-XVII century) the Dutch selected the orange carrots, and thanks to the French farmer Louis de Vilmorin we can now eat the delicious qualities of carrots such as the one of Nantes and Chantenay.

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carrots that had to find their ways in the soil…a bit funky but still very tasty! 

Nutrition

What we usually eat is the root of the carrots, but in the East they also use the young leaves in salads or stir-fried, and in the past the seeds were used as a medicament.

They are energetically quite poor (25-30 Kcal per 100g) as they are mainly water and fibers, but they are a rich source of vitamins. They have among the highest amount of carotene (mainly beta but also alfa), which our bodies convert in Vitamin A, essential for our vision and cell differentiation. Vitamin A dissolves in fat, and as the other vitamins with these characteristics (D, E, K), can be toxic in high amounts as it accumulates in the liver. This doesn’t happen with carotene, as its conversion in vitamin A is regulated in our bodies to control a possible excess.

Besides Carotene, carrots are also rich in potassium, group B vitamins, vitamin C and small amounts of iron and calcium.

How can we get the best out of these delicious vegetables?

The concept of bioavailability is essential in nutrition. For carrots, the precious carotene is accumulated into their cells, in the chromoplasts. The vegetables’ cells are surrounded by thick cell walls, so to get out the precious carotene the best is to grind them or centrifuge them to mechanically crash the walls, and to cook them to soften the fibers. Moreover to help solubility of carotene, is best to season them with some fat substance like some olive oil or some butter.

Also in many old recipes are always cooked with oil, seasoned with cumin and glazed with wine. Here you have already some tricks for preparing them and help our sight.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

According to TCM, the carrot has neutral thermic nature, cold if row (to avoid then in case of excess of cold and deficit). It directs mainly to Spleen and is thus useful for digestive issues also for kids and newborns. It directs also to Liver, and it has then a positive effect on sight (for TCM, eyes are the openings connected to energy of Liver), and to Lung (calms cough). Promotes lactation, has a mild diuretic effect and helps lowering cholesterol.

If you want to know more:

https://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/

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