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A baby carrot is an immature carrot. Contrary to some beliefs, baby carrots are not cut from larger carrots but grow in the size they are sold. Confusion may be caused by similarly sized baby cut carrots, which are often marketed as "baby carrots" as well.
The immature roots of the carrot plant are sometimes harvested simply as the result of crop thinning, but are also grown to this size as a specialty crop. Certain cultivars of carrots have been bred to be used at the "baby" stage. One such cultivar is 'Amsterdam Forcing'. This process was developed at Beechnut Farms, bought by Zellwin Farms. These farms originally developed food for WWII, but wanted to sell food for civilians. A team of two led the research. From an interview, they were originally to be called "carettes". According to Dole, baby carrots are sweeter and more tender than full-grown carrots.
Taking fully grown carrots and cutting them to a smaller size was the idea of California farmer Mike Yurosek. Yurosek was unhappy at having to discard carrots because of slight rotting or imperfections, and looked for a way to reclaim what would otherwise be a waste product. He was able to acquire an industrial green bean cutter, which cut his carrots into two lengths, and by placing these lengths into a potato peeler, he created the original "baby-cut" carrot, branded "Bunny-Luv".
In 2006, nearly three-quarters of the fresh baby-cut carrots produced in the United States came from Bakersfield, California. Bolthouse Farms and Grimmway Farms are the world's two largest growers, processors, and shippers of baby-cut carrots. The Green Giant company, which resells carrots from Bolthouse Farms, markets their product as "baby-cut carrots".
Generally, consumers can determine whether small carrots are true baby carrots or not by looking at what is listed on the packaging. Labels that say "baby carrots" appear on packages of very young carrots that are harvested while the vegetables are still quite tiny. Labels that proclaim "baby-cut carrots" appear on packages of petite carrots made by chopping down and polishing much larger versions of the vegetable.
"Baby-cuts" are part of a sharp upsurge in the carrot's popularity in the U.S. Between 1970 and 1986, Americans ate 6 pounds of carrots per person per year. However, American consumption of carrots began to take off in 1987, and by 2002 it had reached 11 pounds per person.
To make "baby-cuts," these large sweet carrots are machine cut into 2-inch sections, then abraded down to size, their ends rounded by the same process:
The white blush sometimes visible on the surface of cocktail carrots is caused by dehydration of the cut surface. Cocktail carrots are more prone to develop this because their entire surface area is a cut surface. Low-temperature, high-humidity storage can minimize the white appearance.
In September 2010 a marketing initiative was launched by a group of nearly 50 carrot producers led by Bolthouse Farms (calling themselves "A Bunch of Carrot Farmers") sought to promote baby-cut carrots as an alternative to “junk food”. The campaign mimicked tactics typically employed by snack food marketers, including snack-food-like packaging; futuristic, sexual, and extreme sports-themed TV commercials; carrot vending machines in schools; and an iPhone game and website.