Lately, I’ve been really interested (both for our budget and out of creative curiosity) in figuring out ways to maximize the use of all our produce items. For example, when I buy beets, in addition to using the beetroot, I’ll also sauté up the greens. The other day I got some carrots in my CSA box, and it made me wonder – is there anything you can do with those carrot greens?
Turns out, there is a lot of debate in the online world about whether carrot tops are poisonous or not. Before I get into my opinions, let’s just be clear that this post does not constitute medical advice. If you are nervous about eating carrot tops, ask your doctor!
So here’s the deal. A 2009 New York Times article prompted some of this online debate about toxicity, stating:
“A carrot top, apparently, is not a laughing matter. They contain alkaloids, Ms. Sumner explained, a group of organic compounds that includes caffeine, cocaine, and strychnine. These are substances that even culinary thrill-seekers might not want in their salad. “Effects range from slightly elevated blood pressure, and slightly elevated alertness and heartbeat, all the way to death,” Ms. Sumner said.”
But a separate NY Times blog featuring food science writer Harold McGee states that he’s found “no evidence that carrot tops are unsafe to eat.”
Here’s my take on it:
- Yes, carrot tops contain alkaloids and nitrates, but so do a host of other vegetables we eat, like spinach or cilantro
- Bitter does not necessarily mean toxic; and some of us have genetic traits that cause us to perceive a higher level of bitterness than others.
- You’d have to eat (or juice) a large amount of most greens to experience side effects
While there are other plants out there that resemble carrot tops which are toxic (like poison hemlock) – I can’t find any scientific evidence that carrot tops are toxic when eaten in a normal amount. In fact, the only scientific article I found in pubmed that specifically looked at carrot tops (along with radish tops) found that men fed 75 grams per day for a month had no adverse effects.
In other words, as long as you aren’t eating them by the bushel – or you aren’t personally sensitive to the greens (and sensitives can happen with any food, of course) – then you should be able to experiment with eating them. I’d recommend organic carrot greens when possible, though, since they may be high in pesticide residues.
And I’m still kickin’ after whipping up this carrot top pesto recipe, so I’m going to take that as a good sign. I plan to experiment with them soon in some other recipes too, like this Carrot Greens with Sesame Dressing Recipe, or possibly these Roasted Carrot & Black Bean Tacos with Cilantro & Carrot Green Chimichurri. But this pesto was delicious and definitely a recipe I’ll make again soon. The taste reminded me of parsley with a little bit of carroty flavor.
Carrot Top Pesto Recipe
Makes 6-12 servings, depending on how much you’re using!
1 small bunch of carrot greens
3 garlic cloves
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 to ½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
Blend all ingredients in food processor and serve over pasta, chicken, or vegetables!
I put this over some baked chicken and roasted potatoes, and then served some steamed green beans alongside. Yum!
Share with me: Do you cook with carrot tops? What are your favorite ways to make them?