Today I learned the truth about baby carrots.
Americans eat roughly 10 pounds of carrots each year. And we are willing to bet that most of those carrots are of the two-inch long, sold by the bag, baby variety. These popular crunchy snack items are ubiquitous, with some grocery stores carrying (literally) a ton of them. They are relatively new, appearing in stores only since the 1990s. What genetic legerdemain has provided us with this tiny vegetable?
None. Baby carrots are just regular carrots, whittled down into tiny, two-bite sizes.
In the mid-1990s, Mike Yurosek owned a packaging plant in Bakersfield, California. He and his family, under the brand "Bunny-Luv," were selling carrots in packaging similar to the one seen here. The cellophane packaging -- standard, at the time (and still today, for the most part) -- was a great way to highlight the perfection each carrot had in store. But not all carrots are created in such perfect proportions, making the cellophane wrapping a double-edged sword. Many were knobby, curved, or otherwise aesthetically unpleasing, making them impossible to sell in the transparent packaging associated by consumers with high quality.
Carrot packagers were taking these ugly carrots and removing them from the production lines. Many of the carrots were fed to cows, pigs, etc., but there is an upper limit to how much beta carotene an animal's system can tolerate before its fat turns orange due to the barnyard equivalent of carotenosis. So Yurosek was left with few options other than throw out these excess carrots.
The idea to cut them into small, snack-sized delights came to him when he realized that frozen carrot vendors were, by and large, already doing this with his aesthetically pleasing carrots -- that is, they were chopping them into smaller (albeit not this small) sizes, flash freezing them, and reselling them. Yurosek found a frozen food company which was about to go under and bought one of its green bean cutters -- which, as he told USA Today, happened to cut vegetables into two inch pieces.
A few rounds of testing and refinement led to the food which we now buy one pound, bagged, at a time. Same carrots, only smaller. No babies were harmed in their making -- not even baby carrots.