The Kitchen Scientist

How to Store Carrots So They Last for Months

February 26, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

In The Kitchen Scientist, The Flavor Equation author Nik Sharma breaks down the science of good food, from rinsing rice to salting coffee. Today: the right way to store carrots.


I rarely buy a lot of carrots unless I’m making carrot cake, a large pot of soup, or gajjar ka halwa, a carrot-based Indian dessert. The refrigerator I’m stuck with is tight on space and its temperature seems irregular. Sometimes the vegetables in the crisper turn frosty. We even had a frozen carrot situation once, and the only “person” who loves that is my puppy—it helps with his teething. But carrots are one of those vegetables that can last for a good amount of time if stored properly (and if you have a proper refrigerator).

What’s a Carrot, Anyway?

To understand how to store carrots smartly, let’s take a closer look at the ingredient.

Carrots are roots, more specifically a taproot: a single conical-shaped root from which tinier feathery roots (called secondary lateral roots) emerge. How a carrot takes shape as it grows depends on a variety of factors, from the type of carrot strain to soil conditions and climate.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I always just toss them in the vegetable drawer in their plastic bag, as long as they're not wet. They seem to last forever, but I mostly just use them diced as an ingredient, in bean dishes and such, so I'm not so fussy about peak flavor. If I'm going to eat a plate of carrots I usually go for frozen; they cook much faster and I like them pretty well done.”
— Smaug
Comment

If you slice through a carrot, you will notice that the center is slightly lighter in color than the exterior. The outside of the carrot is where most of the storage sugars reside. Growing at temperatures greater than 68°F tends to produce carrots that have less sugar but a stronger flavor.

Carrots are typically considered to be a vegetable low in starch but higher in sugars like sucrose. However, this depends on the carrot variety and the growing and storage conditions, like stress. In one study, when carrots were subjected to mechanical stress, like excessive shaking during growing, they tasted bitter and “sickeningly sweet.” The cells inside the root release an enzyme called amylase (the same enzyme present in our saliva) that will cut up the starch to release sugars.

In another study, carrots stored at 35.6°F showed a decrease in the amount of starch and an increase in the sugars. In the same study, when carrots were stored at room temperature (66.2°F), the amount of starch declined while the amount of sugars rose, but it did not involve amylase. You might have noticed this too at home: If you leave a carrot on the kitchen counter for a few days, it will taste a bit sweeter than it did the day you brought it home, though it will lose some of its firmness.

Another note you might find valuable: If you’ve ever heard that smaller, younger carrots are sweeter than larger, older ones, this detailed study by Hans Platenius from 1934 might convince you otherwise. Older carrots actually contain more carotene and more sucrose, and less crude fiber, which makes them a great choice for cooking.

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What’s the Best Way to Store Carrots?

Carrots can last up to two to three months in the refrigerator if stored properly.

If you grow your own carrots or buy them fresh from the farmers market, immediately place them in a bag and store them in your refrigerator. Avoid exposure to sunlight or air, which can cause carrots to worsen in quality.

To store carrots in the refrigerator for a long period of time (say, more than three days), I’ve found that keeping them in an airtight and zip-top or vacuum-sealed bag is the most efficient. The bag’s seal helps control the humidity (refrigerators tend to create dry conditions, which causes food to dehydrate).

When storing carrots, keep them away from vegetables and fruits like apples, pears, ripe bananas, etc., which produce ethylene gas. In plants, ethylene acts as a hormone and hastens ripening of fruit and, in the case of carrots, it will cause them to quickly deteriorate and make them taste bitter by producing a substance called isocoumarin.

If the green tops are still attached to the crown, that will lead to condensation inside the container or bag. The greens also draw water away from the root, so it is best to cut them from the crown as soon as they are brought home. I put a clean kitchen towel inside the bag—this wicks the water away, so the carrots don’t sit in a puddle. Then I store the greens separately like herbs, with a damp paper towel in a bag or in an herb container (those special attachments that are sometimes included in refrigerators). If you decide to leave the greens attached, this wicking method will also prevent the leaves from browning quickly.

Some folks also recommend storing carrots in a bowl (or a sealed airtight container) of clean filtered water in the refrigerator. The water must be changed daily and the carrots will last for up to a week—but beyond this time period, the carrots tend to rot easily. This can be a bit cumbersome, a waste of water, and doesn’t extend the shelf life of the carrots, so I don’t do this.

Try This At Home

An easy way to determine whether your storage method is working: Make notes comparing how limp or firm the carrot remains and any changes in weight. Over time, as the carrot ages, it will turn softer and lose weight. This occurs due to water loss from the vegetable but also due to metabolic changes taking place in the carrot. The cooler temperature of the refrigerator slows down these changes but does not completely halt them.

Place your carrots in a cooler spot in your fridge (but not in a spot where they'll freeze). Sometimes, as it is with everything in life, storage might not be perfectly efficient, and you might end up with soft carrots. If this happens, I find it best to cook those carrots right away. Use them in dishes where a crunchy texture is not needed: Roast them in the oven, blend them into a soup, toss them into a pot of stock, or make a carrot mash. And if you don’t have time to cook them that day, freeze them and cook them when you need to in recipes where their texture is not important.

What’s your go-to way to store carrots at home? And how long do they usually last?

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Nik Sharma is a molecular biologist turned cookbook author and food photographer who writes a monthly column for Serious Eats and the San Francisco Chronicle and is a contributor to the New York Times. His first cookbook, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation award and an International Association of Culinary Professionals award. Nik resides in Los Angeles, California and writes the award-winning blog, A Brown Table. Nik's new book, The Flavor Equation will be released in October 2020.

19 Comments

orit R. July 28, 2021
I am sad to say that I am no longer recycling and that I am using what is the easiest and most comfortable. After years of being environmentally aware and nagging my kids to be the same, I learned that there is so much lack of knowledge about it. People put things in the recycling that cause the whole batch to get thrown away. So to make a long story short- not wasting time and energy in this one ☝️
 
judy July 28, 2021
I am sad to see so many using waste increasing zip-top bags and/or foil that are not readily reusable more than a few times. I have seen these recommendations several times on F52 for storing produce. I have been using Debbie Meyer green boxes for more than 10 years with great success, and not appreciable packaging waste, other than what I bring the product home in. they get transferred to Debbie Meyer boxes, and bags, and keep for quite q while. varies by product. and are reusable. She says bags are reusable 10 times, but I have some that I have had for several years that still work great. More about tearing and finally falling apart. On the other hand, green boxes work great for long term use. Cabbage, citrus, root vegetables (other than potatoes), eggplant, tomatoes, all kinds of fruits, even bread lasts longer in a green bag or box. The big bread box I really use for veggies: I can put multiple varieties in and most will keep for an extended period of time. the only one that does not keep very long are green onions. But I have found that the organic ones keep longer than conventional ones. But I have been happy with green boxes for years to effectively keep my produce from ripening and rotting too quickly. Buy and Avocado, but don't need it for a few days? Put it in a green bag on hold then take it out a day or so before you need it to give it time to ripen. I am doing the same with some plums I bought: A whole bag, but if left on the counter would ripen all at once. This way I leave most in the bag, and a couple on the counter to ripen, the next mayor so I take out a couple more, while eating the ones on the counter that are ripening. So I don't get a bunch of ripe fruit all at once that we cannot devour before it spoils. the only trick with the boxes? The collect water. I have a few white washcloths that I sue for my produce. Put one in the bottom of the box to absorb the condensation and one over the produce and when wet, pull it out and put in another. Condensation interferes with the effectiveness of the box, as well as contributing to rotting produce. The best of the boxes are the heavy duty green boxes. She does have a newer line that is light weight, and not as effective and keeping produce fresh--but certainly fresher than simply storing, and, if produce is going to be used in a few days, fresher than storing in plastic bags, and no waste. Experiment to find which store the longest and how to treat them. Worth the effort.
 
dubravka May 23, 2021
Every season we buy 25 pounds of carrots from a farmer. We fill a container (plastic, wooden wine box, or cley planter) with sterilized sand, or straw. We then stick the carrots, without green tops, into the sand, slightly spray them with water and keep them in the garage. We pull them out as needed. They last until March! The sand can be reused the next season. Our winters are cold and the garage is not heated.
 
piggledy May 18, 2021
This is great information. We use a zip top plastic bag, with as much air as possible removed, in the crisper drawer. We also find keeping the temp in the fridge as low as possible - just north of the temp where milk will begin to freeze in its container - about 34 degrees Fahrenheit in our fridge - keeps all food fresh longer.
 
Mary K. May 17, 2021
I wash, peel, and chop mine into 'big sticks' for snacking, then place in a tupperware container. I add a small amount of water to the container, close the lid and shake -- there's enough water to coat the carrots. I store in the veggie drawer in the frig. Every time I bring them out of the frig I give it a light shake (or every few days) to make sure to recoat the carrots. If the water is gone and the carrots seem dry, I add water again. They stay fresh and crunchy for a few weeks!
 
j7n May 17, 2021
I store carrots in a loosely open plastic bag in the vegetable drawer. It's cold in there as it is above the freezer section. Carrots stay fresh for months. I like to grate them and eat raw with meat. They are clean and have been refrigerated at the supermarket. I regret not having bought more before they went out of season recently.
 
Stephanie A. May 17, 2021
We buy the big bags of organic carrots from Costco. We cut some small holes here and there on the bags, being careful to put a couple of the holes at the tip of the carrots, where the moisture tends to build up more and can start them sprouting roots. We leave the bags loosely open too. The plastic bags keep some humidity in and the small holes and open end allow the excess humidity to vent out. This way, the carrots stay very fresh in the body of the basement fridge for many weeks at a time. I think it is also helpful that the basement fridge gets opened much less than the kitchen fridge, so the temperature and humidity in the basement fridge stay more stable.
 
Elida W. May 17, 2021
I stashed carrots for literally months during the pandemic. In plastic, in the vegetable drawer of the cheap refrigerator in my garage. If they got a little long in the tooth, I cooked with them. Otherwise, they were always great raw.
 
Susan I. May 16, 2021
I must have a great refrigerator because I store them in the plastic bag they came in. The vegetable drawer keeps them for days - I’m laughing because the author is suggesting they only last a few days !
 
orit R. May 16, 2021
I buy the big bag of carrots at Costco. Never had a problem with it lasting for all the time. Keep it in the bed and just take one when I need.
 
abbyarnold May 16, 2021
I cut off the tops and store them in water. They last two weeks. I always have carrots in the fridge. Carrots and hummus are a snack or lunch. Hummus is always homemade. Is is really easy. Soak your dried garbonzos with some baking soda, boil them up the next days, rinse away as many skins as you can, and whirl them up in the food processor with a clove of garlic, a half jar of tahini, juice and zest of 2 lemons, a sprinkle of cumin, and salt.
 
Vysherwood May 16, 2021
I store them in Ovtene food storage bags! The bags extend the life of all produce as well as cheese and meat...
 
Deleted A. May 16, 2021
I store carrots in a FoodSaver vacuum sealed container to have a quantity ready available. If I buy a large quantity, I will seal them up in vacuum bags. They last forever. I also slice some up and blanch them quickly in water, dry them and freeze them on a sheet pan in a single layer and vacuum seal and freeze them in single or double portion sizes. My FoodSaver has saved me at least 5 times what it cost me in the two years I have had it by allowing me to stock up on items when they are on sale, and by preventing regular food spoilage. I can keep fresh strawberries in the fridge for over a month in a vacuum sealed container with no loss in quality at all and freshly made spaghetti meat sauce keeps for weeks in the fridge, with no loss in quality or safety. When you live alone, it really is a money saver.
 
Vermicmpstr May 16, 2021
I've been storing my carrots for years in the frig in the large plastic container that baby spinach, salad greens etc come in. Place paper towel in the bottom, then carrots and paper towel on top of the carrots. The container keeps them airtight and they really last a long time.
 
Redrivercontess May 16, 2021
What did you use the green carrot tops for? I'm really interested because I use a lot of carrots, especially when I saute cabbage as a side dish and have always disposed the green tops down the disposal or compost? Would love to hear what dishes are complemented with these beautiful little greens!
 
Judi L. May 16, 2021
I am blessed to have a stone foundation, and a root cellar walled off from the rest of the basement, temperature"controlled" through a small window, allowing the cold in when needed. A technique I use to store carrots is in a bin, layered in sand, then tightly covered. I normally buy enough to last most of the winter, and store them this way in the root cellar. This works well for me.
 
ronyvee February 27, 2021
All through this pandemic I have been buying long-storing fresh vegetables and fruit: carrots, onions, garlic, cabbage, apples, oranges, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. I store the onions, potatoes, squash, and garlic at room temperature flat on sheet pans in one layer and NOT together. (I usually slide a pan of one vegetable under the bed, two in the closets and one on top of some books on a low book shelf. I know this might seem weird, but they last for weeks and weeks, maybe months, this way.)The fruit is kept loose in the crisper, and the carrots and cabbage are stored in my large Rubbermaid Fresh Keeper storage containers in the fridge. Its just the two of us, but everything stored this way lasts for MONTHS. Yes, I do get tired of slaw and apple crisps....sometimes. Mostly I am just grateful I don't have to go to the store very often. When I do, I buy tender greens, a precious basket of cherry tomatoes or a bunch of bananas and enjoy them immediately. After all, we will still have roasted sweet potatoes, French carrot salad, and a Dutch apple pie after all of the salads and smoothie bowls are over for the week ... or month.
 
Smaug February 26, 2021
I always just toss them in the vegetable drawer in their plastic bag, as long as they're not wet. They seem to last forever, but I mostly just use them diced as an ingredient, in bean dishes and such, so I'm not so fussy about peak flavor. If I'm going to eat a plate of carrots I usually go for frozen; they cook much faster and I like them pretty well done.
 
Joe May 16, 2021
In their plastic bag ? That almost kills mine instantly !! I put them in the vegetable drawer, and a completely dry bag of carrots will fill with condensation in a few days, and the carrots start black-rotting with-in a week. What is the difference between yours and mine? (Cool, dry basement storage does not work either).