Cracked carrots look as though something went wrong because we have grown accustomed to produce looking a certain way. We shrink back and scrunch our noses at misshapen or irregular foods for good reason: sometimes something did in fact go wrong. That doesn’t always mean the food is unfit for consumption, however.
Cracked carrots are still safe to eat because there is nothing wrong with their nutritional value. However, they may not look or feel the same, due to manageable causes. The cracks usually come from overwatering, underwatering, or getting bumped against something.
In this article, we’ll see why carrots crack (and do other weird things), which ones are safe to eat, and what to do with spoiled or surplus carrots.
Reasons Carrots Crack
Carrots that have cracks are safe to eat, though they may not measure up to flavor or texture expectations. However, we know that careful growing and handling can prevent most occasions for carrots to crack. Too little water, too much water, and handling damage all contribute to cracks.
Too Little Water
Carrots need ample water to maintain the cell structure that gives them that classic crunch. If a carrot dries out too fast, this causes the cells to shrink. The walls can only pull back so far before uneven pressure compromises their support, causing them to rip apart.
Too Much Water
Dehydrated carrots don’t have enough pressure, but overhydrated carrots have too much pressure inside the cells. When the pressure has nowhere to go, the carrot splits to relieve the tension. If you grow your own carrots, check carrot watering needs for your variety, soil, and zone in order to mitigate cracking.
Dropped or Bumped
Carrots that have cracked may have been plucked from the garden without any defects at all. During harvesting, carrots are gathered in bundles, spilling and bouncing into other carrots and surfaces. Shipping, stocking the grocery store, and plopping into your grocery cart all provide new opportunities to split.
When Carrots Look or Feel Weird, but Are Safe to Eat
Soil condition determines the shape a root vegetable will take. Overcrowded soil and rocky inclusions can cause twisting. Fertilizer, under-watering, and over-watering can cause bumpy or hairy carrots.
Let’s look at a few common deformities that—while unsightly—are safe to consume:
Carrots twist when the surrounding soil includes rocks or other debris that causes a growing root to turn. If the carrots were planted too close together, this can cause multiple carrots to twist at once, sometimes together. Compacted soils also place unequal pressure on growing carrots, resulting in twists.
Bumps on carrots come from lateral root proliferation due to overfertilizing, nematodes, and underwatering. Underdeveloped carrot tap roots become stumps of baby carrots on the side of the main carrot.
Overfertilizing promotes branching of the main tap root as the lateral roots grow into young tap roots. You can still eat branched or knobby carrots with some creative peeling and chopping.
Nematodes can cause bumps on carrots, but the carrots won’t fully develop, and they’ll have fewer nutrients. While these carrots are still edible, it’s best to compost them and eliminate the nematode problem.
Carrots that start off crisp from the garden or store lose water over time as they are exposed to a refrigerator’s dry air. When this happens, the carrot’s cells lose structural integrity, making them bend and flex rather than snap apart.
Bendy carrots taste just fine but you may want to rehydrate them to restore crispness if you plan to eat them raw. Otherwise, they make great recipe ingredients.
Lateral roots grow from the sides of the carrot itself, which is considered the tap root or main root of the carrot plant. These roots stabilize the entire plant in its growing medium, giving a foundation to the flowering and leafing parts. They also bring in nutrients and water from the medium.
Overfertilizing, underwatering, and overwatering cause these hairy roots to multiply along the carrot as it seeks equilibrium between intake and growth.
Overfertilizing creates an excess amount of nitrogen that the carrot cannot handle. To compensate for the high nitrogen concentration, the carrot sprouts hairs in order to take in more water and other nutrients.
When underwatering threatens the carrot’s hydration, it will increase lateral root growth to maximize the number of water sources.
Overwatering creates an imbalance of water and nutrients. The lateral roots have to multiply to stabilize the tap root, as well as seek out soil sections higher in nutrients.
Hairy carrots taste just like less hairy carrots. Peel if you want to, but it’s not necessary.
The Shelf Life of Carrots
Carrot shelf life depends on what form they’re in when stored. Cutting, slicing, peeling, and cooking carrots reduces their shelf life. Raw carrots only last a few days when stored outside the refrigerator, but last several weeks when kept raw in the refrigerator.
Cutting and slicing introduce more air to more parts of the carrots, and smaller carrots and carrot pieces dry out faster than whole carrots. Peeling also dries them out faster, since they’ve lost the protective skin that helps retain water.
Cooking carrots removes some of the self-preserving nutrients and saturates them with moisture, opening up bacterial opportunities. This means they will spoil faster than uncooked carrots.
When Carrots Have Gone Bad
As we have seen above, unsightly carrots don’t always mean inedible carrots. An inedible carrot has spoiled, gone bad, turned rotten.
Here’s how to tell:
Unless you expect sliminess from a food, finding it signifies that the food has spoiled. Moisture builds up on the surface, inviting more bacteria to populate the surface, resulting in slime.
Since slimy carrots cannot be eaten, toss them into the compost instead!
We’ve already covered bendy carrots, which are safe to eat. Mushy, however, means the carrot is not safe to consume.
When a carrot shrivels and turns mushy, it has lost moisture, structure, and nutrients. It won’t taste right. It won’t feel right. It won’t be worth the effort to prepare and eat it.
Go ahead and compost those mushy carrots.
Most of us wouldn’t think to eat anything with mold growing on it, but some foods have exceptions, so it makes sense to wonder if moldy carrots can be eaten.
Mold is bacterial growth, so if you have a moldy carrot, the entire thing may be affected, rendering it inedible. It will have large, discolored areas too big to cut off. In this case, toss it into the compost pile.
However, if the spots are small, from newer carrots, you might find that peeling the carrots solves this problem. Also, according to this article from the USDA, you can cut around smaller spots to preserve the rest of the carrot.
Composting kitchen scraps, old leftovers, and sundry garbage-bound bits saves you money, creates rich soil, and reduces excessive waste.
Carrots–raw, cooked, or spoiled—make excellent compost fodder. For example, when preparing carrots in the kitchen, gather the peelings in a bowl with the carrot top and other discards to toss into the compost.
By composting, we reduce how much waste we contribute during the week and over our lifetime. The fewer things in the garbage, the fewer bags we use. This translates to less time and gas used to haul the trash away.
Composting regularly also gives you nutrient-dense fertilizing soil you can add to existing plants or use in a soil mix for planting in a garden.
Cracked carrots are safe to eat. Nothing is wrong with their nutrient values or edibility, so they pose no health risk. Some carrots don’t crack, but have other oddities to their look and feel that might turn people away, but these are safe to eat as well.
Carrots with large mold growth, slime, or have become mushy should be composted. These have turned for the worse and contain bacteria that could make you sick.
Composting carrots reduces waste by removing carrot scraps from garbage bins, and provides nutrient-rich soil for your garden.