16 April 2010

Carottes des sables

I've often wondered if it was just a marketing gimmick. I see them in the markets and supermarkets: carottes des sables. Carrots grown in sand. They are packed in paper-lined wooden crates and the carrots still have a good amount of sand clinging to them. The other carrots in the stores and markets, whether they are displayed loose in bins or sold in sealed plastic bags, have been washed so they are completely clean.

Those are the ones I usually buy, and I buy a lot of them because Walt and I really like carrots prepared all sorts of ways: grated and dressed with vinaigrette to make a salade de carottes râpées; cooked with a little water, some butter, and some sugar to make carottes glacées — glazed carrots; or with cream, as carottes à la crème. And carrots always go in stews, including bœuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and blanquette de veau.

Carottes des sables from Normandy

The carottes des sables are normally the most expensive kind (along with carottes bio — organically grown ones). Yesterday I was in the supermarket and looking specifically for carrots. I always like to have some in the refrigerator. Besides, I was planning to make a stew. The store I found myself in was Ed, the "hard discount" market chain. And there I found two bins of carrots. There were washed carrots, and "sandy" carrots.

Which would you buy? Clean ones or dirty ones? When I looked at the prices, I saw that they were the same — 99 cents a kilogram. That's a standard price for carrots, though in winter they can be cheaper. Since I had never bought carottes des sables before, I got some of those. They are supposed to be better, even though they are a pain to wash. Who wants all that sand going down the kitchen drain?

I washed a couple of them to show the difference.

It turns out that carottes des sables are more than dirty carrots. They are grown on the Normandy coast between the Mont Saint-Michel and the towns of Carteret and Cherbourg. They have a Label Rouge designation, meaning that they must come from that area and be grown according to precise methods. I think some are even A.O.C.

The soil along the coast near the towns and villages of Pirou, Créances, and Saint-Germain-sur-Ay is, obviously, sandy. It is also slightly salty, because it's close to the sea. The farmers use seaweed as a fertilizer, and the sea breeze brings salt spray to the fields. Carrots love sandy soil, and this environment supposedly gives them a distinct taste and texture. CHM and I visited this area 12 years ago, but we didn't pay attention to carrots. There are many châteaux and churches to visit there.

The château de Pirou, near Créances.
Thanks to CHM for the 1998 photo.

Wikipedia says (my translation of the French version): “The production methods practiced around Créances to grow carottes des sables make them to ordinary carrots what the lambs that graze on the salt-sprayed meadows near Mont Saint-Michel are to ordinary meat. These carrots are grown in sandy soil composed of river silt and benefit from a mild maritime climate, sea breezes, and salt spray. The are fertilized with local seaweed. All these factors give the carrots the taste of the sea, a deep orange color, and a tender heart” — in other words, the core is less fibrous than in other carrots.

Do they really taste better than other carrots? I'll find that out at noon today and report back. I'm cooking some in a white veal stew.


  1. The Muffin Man has always told me that sandy carrots don't get all the fertilisers that other carrots get because they don't NEED them. so they're theoretically untreated.
    i hate the drama of washing them but i really think that they DO taste better.

  2. A few years later on our way to Coutances, Frank, J..., Y... and I went through Créances and J..., to Frank's dismay, mentioned that carrots grown there were the best. Poor Frank used to say that there were carrots in everything they cook in France!

    Like you, I love carrots and, just like wine, put them in almost everything I cook! So, Frank was right after all!

  3. Can't wait for the taste result.

  4. Well, Nadège, the carottes de Créance tasted just like... carrots. I couldn't tell you there is a great difference between these and other carrots we buy.

    Katia, I don't know if the carottes des sables are labeled as « biologiques ». If not, I wonder why not.

    CHM, I don't remember visiting Créances, but I have good memories of Pirou and Lessay, which are nearby. Walt and I passed through Coutances in 2005.

  5. We used to live in Normandy, and we were just telling our grocer about theses carrots yesterday. We always bought them... they seemed so romantic! Thanks for your story... we are waiting to hear what you think after your taste test!
    take care,

  6. Did you try to eat a piece raw? Maybe that is where the difference in taste would be? I tried new yogurt from Whole Foods. It is called "Siggi's", (Icelandic style skyr, strained non-fat yogurt). At $2.39 for 6 oz, it is not cheap. I bought the orange & ginger, grapefruit and pomegranate & passion fruit. They have 4 more flavors. It is sweetened with agave nectare. Frankly, Fagge greek non fat, plain yogurt is as good, sweetened with agave or jam.
    Sometimes we have to try new products or produce and make our own judgement.
    My cat used to scratch my leather sofa. She is an indoor/outdoor cat (she uses her pet door). The only thing that worked was to buy a "scratch toy" and a catnip spray from Petco. She loves the smell and got used to only scratch her toy (just in case you run into that problem).

  7. I like cooked carrots with a bit of honey.

  8. I find that the carottes des sables here in the Loiret much better than the ordinary kind.

  9. That is so interesting. One of the things I love to do when in France is cook....and shop for the things I'm going to cook. I will seek out these carrots when I'm there this summer. (In 6 weeks!!! Woohoo!)

  10. I checked out papilles et pupilles and sent the link to my sisters and nieces. Thank you!

  11. Carrot cake perhaps?

    I've never heard of sand carrots, but this is a wonderful post. My sister is a big "foodie" and it will be most useful as a story at her next party.

  12. I reckon the carottes des sables taste better.

  13. Susan, have you ever done a taste test? I haven't yet.


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