Color and Carrots

Mixed giant carrotsCarrots are on my mind for two reasons. One is that I keep unearthing giant monsters from my garden. The second is that I seem to have ordered 9 seed packets for different carrot varieties so I know it’s going to be a carrot year. I didn’t know that I liked carrots that much. It’s more that I wanted to learn the differences that distinguish different varieties from life rather than looking at a picture—their shapes, flavors, and colors.

Strange how important color can be in food. As a college Oakley Sunglasses cheap student I worked in a lab at UC Davis where ice creams were different colors than their flavors would suggest. We gave them to students to eat and asked them to identify the flavors, which they found very hard to do.  Banana isn’t usually green; pistachio isn’t pink, strawberry isn’t yellow. Without the colors in their right places, the tasters were stumped. We put colors and flavors together in very particular ways, it turns out, and with the ice cream flavors matched with their colors, there as no problem and much relief.  As kids, my brother, who worked for a different lab at UC Davis,and I thought it would be amusing to make blue mashed potatoes from the Peruvian tubers he was studying. We thought it would be fun because it would be off-putting, and it was. There aren’t a lot of blue foods, maybe for a reason. Except for blueberries and blue corn flour, blue does not invite one to dig in.

Which brings me back to carrots.

Even though lots of people are growing them and buying them, it seems a bit fussy to call for particular colors of carrots in a recipe. If I saw a recipe for a white carrot and cumin puree, I might think, “Oh? And what’s wrong with orange?”  But if white carrots are what you have, well, you give things a try.  I’ve had a lot of them, very late harvest, gigantic white carrots that I keep finding buried in the ground. Naturally  I wondered what would happen if I made a white carrot soup. It would taste like carrot, but it wouldn’t look like carrot. Would my guests know what they were eating?

Garden writer, Leslie Land, who ate this soup, thought that blindfolded, one might guess that it was based on potato and something rooty. In fact, there was not potato (just a tablespoon of rice). She then put for the idea that flavor is associated with pigment and that orange carrots have more flavor—an idea she has promised to research the minute she gets home. It’s true—the flavor was not robust, though to me it was clearly carrot. But maybe because they were pretty old carrots was why they weren’t’ more carroty. The jury is still out on the flavor component.

I suspect that a white carrot soup can mess with your head. It tastes like carrot but looks like potato, parsnip, celery root, anything but carrot.  A soup made of yellow ones is less disturbing, slightly more carroty, and in fact, pretty and delicate to behold.  If you use those purple skinned orange cheap oakley carrots in a soup, though, you’ll end up with the ugliest brown soup you can imagine. I did that once and I couldn’t eat it. I couldn’t’ get past the color. But the flavor was amazing which suggests there might be something to Leslie’s theory.

I’ve been using my lighter colored carrots in an almond-carrot cake where they work beautifully, giving the cake a soft, rich golden hue instead of intermittent orange streaks.  I recently braised some yellow carrots with orange cores that I bought from Boggy Creek Farm in Austin, tossed them with coconut butter and lime and they were gorgeous (and quite worth eating). Roasted purple carrots mixed yellow, white, and a few orange ones are full of drama, but the inclusion of the orange fellows lets you know that you’re eating carrots. Going back to the soup, I thought that a very fine dice of orange carrots plus the tender greens would be helpful, letting you know where you are in the vegetable world, and so I did just that.


Ivory Carrot Soup with A Fine Dice of Orange                                                      Makes about 5 cups

This is an extremely simple soup, intentionally so, as I was just going for the purity of color and flavor. Try it also with the pale yellow carrots, but not so much the purple skinned ones. They turn brown.

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 pound of white carrots, scrubbed and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon raw white rice

sea salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

A sprig of thyme

4 cups water or light chicken stock

A few tablespoons finely diced orange (and/or other colored carrots, for garnish) plus some of the finer greens, chopped

Warm the butter and oil in a soup pot, add the onion, carrots, rice 1 teaspoon salt and sugar. Cook over medium heat for several minutes, turning everything occasionally.

Add one cup of the water or stock, cover the pan, turn down the heat, and cook while you heat the remaining three cups of liquid.  When hot, add it to the pot, maintain a simmer, cover the pan and cook until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the thyme branch. Puree the soup. Taste for salt and season with pepper.

Simmer the diced carrots in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, then drain.

Scatter the diced carrots plus the minced greens over the surface of the soup just before serving.

15 comments to Color and Carrots

  • I am envious: my first attempt at growing carrots has not been a success. I may try again. (In the meantime, I am harvesting some pretty icicle radishes.) I had to laugh in reading your article, because I have a fixation with pink and purple potatoes. I am very proud of my purple potato gnocchi 😉 I like purple carrots also because they are orange inside. Your soup sounds really appealing, especially in this stormy and cold weather we are experiencing now. I like the idea of adding orange at the end.

  • Simona – I was hoping people would reveal what they like to do about color, or with color, in their kitchens. Thank you! I would
    happily eat your lavender gnocchi.

  • Purple carrots are a great natural dye and I bet they would be awesome in carrot cake.

  • Tracey

    Oh Deborah – your words are always salve to a weary soul – thank you for this wonderful post. The soup looks so lovely and delicate and I’m sure it’s absolutely delicious! I recently had an abundance of purple carrots which I used when making my last large batch of vegetable stock. I now have a fridge full of half-gallon mason jars that are tinged purple. When I use it for risotto, the end result is a bit pink. Not my first choice for risotto but very tasty (and since I can’t bear to throw it away), it will be the pinky/purply base for soups and risotto until it runs out!

    • Tracey – Hi stranger. Interesting that your stock came out pink. (another hard food color.) I think you get the brown color when you blend or puree the carrot – purple and orange makes brown, Patrick assures me that this is true with paint, and we know he knows.

  • Gorgeous—love this soup. It is truly amazing how our senses work, where color and taste assumption are concerned.

    • Thanks, Elissa. It is quite interesting that our senses are as entrenched in habit as they are. And apparently with wine, too. Blindfolded you can’t always tell even a red from a white, unless you’re dealing with cabernets and other big powerful reds.

  • Susan

    I would love the recipe for the almond flour carrot cake!

  • carole

    why not use vegetable bouillon/ stock instead of chicken stock?
    otherwise I like the way the soup looks..all white like that. Very aesthetically pleasing with the diced carrots and greens.
    pretty !

    • Carole – you certainly can use vegetable stock. Or water, for that matter. Personally, I don’t care for commercially made vegetable stock, or most vegetable stocks that have lots of vegetables in them because I feel they can conflict more with the flavors of such a simple soup than the other 2 liquids. If I do use a vegetable stock, I like to make it from the same ingredients that are in the soup, for the most part. The broth leftover from cooking white beans or chickpeas would be good, too, simmered with sliced carrots, onion, thyme. I used a light chicken stock in part because I happened to have made some the night before.

  • Have you ever tried Indian Carrot Halvah AKA carrot fudge? I made it once for a culinary school project. It was incredibly good!

  • […] Check out the lovely carrot soup recipe here. […]

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