The Carrot Family

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Though the carrot family gave fewer flavoring plants to Europe than the mint family, it is remarkable for including several that provide aromatic interest as both herb and spice, and some even as vegetables. Members of the carrot family grow in less extreme conditions than the Mediterranean mints, are generally tender biennials rather than shrubby or woody perennials, and have flavors that are generally milder, sometimes even sweet. The seeds (actually small dry fruits) may have chemical defenses—and therefore are spices— because they’re fairly large and tempting to insects and birds. One terpene, myristicin, shared by dill, parsley, fennel, and carrots, and giving them a common woody, warm note, is thought to be a defense against molds. The aromatic compounds are stored in oil canals within the leaves, under large and small veins, and are generally found in smaller quantities than the externally stored defenses of the mint family.