Carrots are one of the most loved and widely used root vegetables out there. They’re packed with fiber and beta-carotene, which makes them extremely nutritious and beneficial for our health.
Besides being a healthy snack, and delicious addition to soups and crunchy salads, they have many more uses in cooking many people aren’t even aware of.
However, if you don’t like the taste of carrots, or you simply don’t have any at the moment, you may be tempted to find adequate replacements. With vegetables similar to carrots you can still go on with your recipe and make a delicious meal.
The best substitutes for carrots
Carrots are root vegetables, either orange or white, and they have a predominantly sweet, somewhat bitter, earthy, nutty flavor. The carrots we use in cooking are actually the domesticated version of wild carrots originating from southwestern Asia and Europe.
While most recipes call for the actual root of the carrot, the stems and the leaves can also be used in cooking. However, not all carrots taste the same, and their flavor and aroma largely depend upon the conditions they grew in, as well as the variety.
The flavor is usually sweet and slightly tart, but sometimes you may come across more woody and herbal varieties that are mostly older. Different cooking methods can help bring out the flavor of the carrot, even more, especially their distinctive sweetness.
For example, roasting and steaming carrots tend to release the largest amount of sugar, while cooking them, especially in soups, enhances the herbal aroma. If you’re a fan of sweet carrots, go for darker colors since those varieties tend to have the highest sugar content.
Also, keep in mind that most of the store-bought so-called “baby carrots” aren’t actually young carrots, but machine-cut carrot pieces from fully grown carrots.
Young carrots are harvested in May and June, at the very beginning of the season, so you can find them at your nearest farmers’ market and freeze them for future use:
- Quickly blanch them in salted water, then place them into an ice bath;
- Dry them thoroughly before placing them in an airtight container.
If you want to store your carrots in the refrigerator, follow these steps instead:
- Remove the green part. If you leave the greens, they will suck all the moisture out of the vegetables, causing them to wilt;
- Keep the carrots in an open bag, or a closed container of water in your fridge to preserve their freshness.
Whether you don’t have any carrots stored in your freezer or refrigerator, or you simply don’t enjoy their taste and you’re looking for the best carrot substitute – we’ve got you covered.
These root vegetables are native to Eurasia, and they’re related to carrots, which explains the resemblance. Parsnips have a long, off-white root similar to carrots, and they also offer that unique sweetness ideal for soups, sauces, and stews.
However, parsnips have a distinct sweetness that is almost spicy and reminds of nutmeg – which is a specific flavor note you don’t get from carrots.
Out of all vegetables that look like carrots, parsnips may take the win as their identical twin. They’re so similar that ancient Greeks and Romans confused the two and referred to parsnips as carrots, according to some experts.
Many consider squash a vegetable, while it is in fact a fruit (since it contains the seeds of the plant). And while we’re on the topic of classification, there are two types of squash: summer and winter.
It originates from Mexico, just like beans and corn, but today it is grown and eaten all over the world. Summer squash has a mild, sweet flavor, and it is an ideal substitute for carrots in soup. It has high water content and doesn’t require much cooking.
On the other hand, winter squash has thicker skin and a firmer texture that requires longer cooking, and contrary to summer squash, the skin is not edible.
Here we have yet another root vegetable, and an ideal substitute for carrots – whether it be raw or cooked.
Beets are entirely edible, which allows for different cooking techniques, including boiling, cooking, steaming, and baking – which is quite possibly the most delicious way to prepare them.
They can also be eaten raw in salads or as side dishes, which is advised since they preserve all their vitamins and nutrients this way.
In shape, they’re very similar to radishes and turnips, but they do not belong to the same family. Beets have a dominant earthy flavor with a dose of sweetness. They should be thoroughly washed for the taste of the dirt to be removed.
Turnips are closely related to arugula and radishes, and they all belong to the mustard family. While old turnips have a thicker skin that has to be removed, young ones are entirely edible, and they have a milder taste similar to carrots.
Many people believe that turnips have to be cooked, but actually, they can also be consumed raw in salads or as healthy snacks – especially when young.
Turnips are slightly peppery and spicy, and the flavor could be described as a blend between potato and radish. They pair perfectly with other root vegetables and make for a great base for soups and stews.
Daikon is very popular in Japanese cuisine, and it is usually of white color, with a crunchy texture similar to carrots. This replacement for carrots also has a sweet flavor, and it can be eaten both raw and cooked.
Raw daikon is ideal for your sides, salads, and slaws, while it can also be cooked, stir-fried, or baked which releases all of its sweetness.
As opposed to red radishes, daikon isn’t as peppery and spicy, and it is far more subtle in both flavor and aroma – especially if we’re comparing them raw. The flesh of the daikon is juicy and crunchy – just like a carrot, which makes it a particularly good carrot substitute.
Celery is a marshland plant, and it is entirely edible, as you can use its leaves, stalks, and roots. While the leaves are used as a herb, stalks are amazing in salads, dips, and sauces, and can replace chopped carrots.
The roots of celery (also known as celeriac) can be roasted, baked, or boiled and then mashed like potatoes.
We’ve all heard about celery juice, its high fiber content, and the numerous health benefits it provides. However, if you’re not a fan of green juice, you can always add celery sticks to your dishes for that bold flavor and earthy aroma.
It is also a must in soups, so you can easily swap carrots for celery.
While we’ve already talked about squash as a great replacement for carrots, we feel like zucchini deserves a special mention in this list, especially due to its versatility.
Zucchini is a great choice if you want to add more sweetness to your dish, whether it be a stir-fry, soup, sauce, or a side of grilled veggies.
However, since it is a summer squash and has higher water content, remember that it doesn’t need much cooking before it becomes mushy.
The possibilities with zucchini are pretty much endless. You can stuff them, cut them into healthy noodles, fry them, or bake them with all kinds of meat.
Kohlrabi is related to cabbage and broccoli, growing as a bulb that can be white, green, or purple. However, the bulbs aren’t the only edible parts, as you can also use the stems and the leaves for different culinary purposes.
If you intend on using it as a carrot-like vegetable, we suggest you use the bulb since it can replace both the texture and the flavor of the carrot – especially fresh.
Kohlrabi is rather sweet, and just like with carrots, this sweetness intensifies when you cook it. It is also slightly peppery, but it mainly has a mild taste that pairs well with other vegetables and all kinds of meats and fish.
You may have heard of this vegetable under different names, including yam bean, Mexican potato, or Mexican turnip. It is a root vegetable native to Mexico, and it is usually snacked on raw.
It has tough brown skin, while the flesh is white and juicy. The root is actually the only edible part of jicama since both the seeds and the leaves are toxic.
Jicama is a great choice if you’re making your snacks or salad in advance – it doesn’t oxidize and it won’t turn brown or become soggy once you cut it up. If you prefer to cook it, it is delicious when grilled or stir-fried.
10. Water chestnut
The term itself comes to the obvious resemblance between this vegetable and chestnuts. Water chestnuts are very common in Chinese recipes, and they only grow in semitropical areas.
You can purchase them both raw and canned, while raw is significantly sweeter, juicier, and crispier – although harder to find. Freshwater chestnuts are predominantly sweet, with a hint of fruitiness and nuttiness.
If you opt for the canned version, keep in mind that they don’t deliver nearly as much flavor as the fresh, raw vegetable. Water chestnuts can be added to any salad and side dish.
They’re quite flavorful in stir-fries, and you can add them to any cooked dish, just make sure not to add them too early into the cooking process so they don’t lose all the texture.
There are so many varieties of cabbage that it would actually be a challenge to name them all. The most popular options include green cabbage, red cabbage, Napa cabbage, bok choy, and Savoy.
While there are some differences between these kinds of cabbage, especially in color and shape, almost all of them have that unique crunch, beautiful sweetness, and versatility that is pretty much unmatched.
Cabbage, even though it physically doesn’t resemble carrots, can replace them in pretty much any dish you can think of. It is delicious raw (especially as coleslaw), but it can also be stuffed, stir-fried, sauteed, roasted, and cooked in a soup or stew.
How to choose a carrot substitute
If a recipe calls for carrots but you’d like to avoid them in your cooking, it won’t be too hard to find an adequate alternative.
All of the options we’ve mentioned above offer great versatility, but some of them may be better in certain dishes than others, depending on the texture and the flavor you’re looking for.
Parsnips, turnips, and daikon resemble carrots not only in appearance but in texture and flavor, as well. You can use them to replace carrots in soups, stews, fresh salads, and many other dishes.
Squash, beets, and celery won’t give you similar aesthetics, but they’re still great carrot replacements – especially in dishes that call for that earthy yet sweet taste.
When you think about replacing carrots, zucchini, kohlrabi, and cabbage may not be the first solution that comes to mind. Nevertheless, these vegetables are amazing in pretty much any dish and combination, and they offer a complex flavor profile.
If you’re in the mood to experiment and you’re tired of using the same veggies over and over again, you may be pleasantly surprised with jicama and water chestnut. The only problem with these options is that they may be a bit hard to find – but they’re definitely worth it!