Ever bite into a carrot only to have your mouth suddenly filled with the taste of soap? No, that's not because you forgot to rinse your carrots before dipping them in your hummus — there's actually a very simple scientific explanation for this phenomenon.
The Science Behind Why Your Carrots Taste Like Soap
No, your carrots haven't been washed in Palmolive, although it might taste like it. And it doesn't mean you need to wash your carrots before diving in, either.
That off-tasting soapiness in carrots comes from a high concentration of a volatile compound known as terpenoids. Not to worry — it sounds worse than it is. All carrots contain this compound, and combined with sugar, it's how carrots get their flavor. But when present in high doses, it makes carrots taste soapy and bitter rather than sweet. This can happen for a number of reasons: the variety of carrot, harvesting too soon, poor growing conditions, and even the way you're storing it at home.
Rest assured, though — if your carrots taste a little like soap, there's nothing wrong with them, and they're safe to eat.
The Best Way to Avoid Soapy-Tasting Carrots
Start by knowing where your carrots come from, and purchasing the freshest ones you can find. Best-case scenario, this means your local farmers market. Ask questions about the particular variety, growing practices, and how the carrots were stored before coming to market.
I talked to Diane Morgan, author of Roots, and she recommended buying carrots with their green tops still attached, since perky, rather than wilted, limp greens are a good visual indicator of freshness. She also says to "look at the carrots and make sure right at the top, where the carrot attaches to the stem, that it is orange rather than green. Underripe carrots are the ones that taste oddly like they have been washed in soap.”
Consider how and where you store your carrots once you get them home. Particularly avoid storing carrots near ethylene-producing fruits, like tomatoes and avocados. Exposure to ethylene can encourage the development of terpenoids in carrots, causing them to become bitter.
But there's hope for soapy carrots, yet. When that soapy taste is present, it will always be more noticeable in raw carrots than in cooked ones. Cooking breaks down the terpenoids, allowing the sweet taste we love to associate with carrots to come through.