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.

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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
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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.

2 Comments

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.