Love carrots but not sure how to pick the best variety for your garden? Here’s a guide to the different types of carrots and what sets each apart from the others. When deciding on which variety to plant in your garden, the most important factors to consider are what type of soil you have, how you intend to use your carrots, and of course, how you like your carrots to look! Carrots are not just pointy and orange, they come in an array of shapes and colors. We’ll walk you through the four broad categories of carrots, explain the pros and cons of each, and give examples of particular varieties in each category.
The Four Main Categories of Carrots
Just as the name suggests, Imperator-type carrots are impressive in looks and taste. They have very long roots, up to 10 inches long, with high sugar content, and are wonderful for fresh eating. (In fact, most of the sweet “baby carrots” you find in a bag in the grocery store are actually made from long, skinny Imperator carrots.) In order for these carrots to reach their full potential, they need to be grown in very loose, deep soil. The roots will struggle to elongate in compacted or rocky soil. If your garden soil is not quite so ideal, you can still end up with tasty Imperator carrots, but they’ll probably be a little stumpy and twisted, not so regal as in the pictures. Some of the other shorter-rooted types will give more satisfying results in heavy clay or rocky soils. Tendersweet is a classic orange, super-sweet, super-long heirloom in this category.
When you think of a generic carrot, chances are you’re thinking of a Danvers type. These are the classic medium-length carrots with rounded shoulders and pointed ends. They grow to about 6-7 inches long, and tolerate heavier and shallower soils than Imperator types. They are known for their deep orange color, excellent flavor, nearly coreless roots, and good storage quality. Danvers 126 is a time-tested favorite heirloom introduced in the late 1800s and still well-loved for its rich sweet flavor.
As one might expect of an heirloom from France, Nantes carrots have a distinctive refined look. They are known for being almost perfectly cylindrical and smooth, with nearly the same diameter from end to end, and a blunt rather than pointed tip. They are almost coreless and very fine grained and sweet, great for juicing and fresh eating. You’ll get the best results with Nantes carrots if you have loose, well draining garden soil. Scarlet Nantes is the oldest and most well-known variety of this type, prized for its beautiful deep orange color. A fun twist on this category is the Little Finger carrot, a miniature Nantes-type that only grows to about 3 or 4 inches long. It’s ideal for container gardening since it can be sown very close together, is quick to mature, and doesn’t require deep soil.
Chantenay carrots have short, conical roots that can power through clay and rocky soils better than any other type of carrot. Rather than growing long and slender, they are bulky at the shoulders and taper to a blunt point. They need to be harvested as soon as they size up, or they will turn fibrous and woody, but they have rich flavor and store exceptionally well. Red Core Chantenay is the most common of these varieties, named for its light orange exterior and deep orange-red core. Introduced in the late 1800s, it’s still the industry standard for freezing and canning. Though good for fresh eating when picked young, if you prefer your carrots cooked to raw, this is definitely a good choice. Another option in this category is Shin Kuroda, an improved variety bred in Japan. It retains the tolerance for heavy soil from its Chantenay ancestors, but is arguably better for fresh eating and juicing, and a bit more heat tolerant.
A Rainbow of Carrots
Most of the carrots we grow today are orange, but the earliest cultivated carrots, originating in Afghanistan in the 10th century, were probably purple. Some of the earliest written records of carrots also refer to yellow and red varieties. The orange varieties that we know today were the creation of Dutch plant breeders in the 17th century. You can still grow all the colors of carrot in your garden today!
Cosmic Purple is a Danvers type carrot with brightly colored purple skin and an orange interior. Their purple color means that they are high in the antioxidant anthocyanin. You can even catch a hint of a spicy flavor in them that was probably common in their ancient ancestors. Purple carrots make excellent snacks, salads and soups. They are also great as fresh juice and pickled for savory dishes.
Solar Yellow carrots light up a salad or stir fry with their sunny yellow color. Solar Yellow carrots are a newer variety of carrot hybrid that contains a combination of both orange and yellow varieties. In addition to being extra-sweet, Solar Yellow carrots also have the visual appeal of bright orange with splashes of yellow. These Danvers type carrots are especially great for juicing too. Enjoy their sharp, intense flavor raw, or roast them for even more depth.
Lunar White carrots are very sweet, mild flavored and nearly coreless. This variety is decorative, with straight roots averaging 6 to 8 inches in length. White Carrots are typically sweeter than the orange variety and have a mild, natural taste making them perfect for eating raw. Due to their thickness, white carrots can also be cooked whole and be used in many recipes including soups, stews and casseroles.
Can’t choose one? Try our Rainbow Blend, a mix of Cosmic Purple, Solar Yellow, Lunar White, and Atomic Red carrots. Rainbow Carrots look like they're straight out of a storybook with their brilliant colors, but they're the perfect recipe for a healthy snack. Their gorgeous rainbow color makes them an exciting addition to salads, snacks, cereals and even recipes.