Have you found yourself in the middle of preparing a meal or treat, only to realize you're fresh out of carrots? Don't worry; this guide has got you covered! Let's explore the best substitutes for carrots by their common uses, ensuring that your recipes turn out just as delicious as you were planning. Whether you're whipping up a savory stew, a crisp salad, or following a family carrot cake recipe, there is a suitable carrot substitute for you on this list.
What are Carrots?
Before we dive into the substitutes, it's helpful to understand the qualities that carrots bring to your dishes. Carrots are a type of root vegetable and one of the world's most popular vegetables. They're known for their distinctive sweet flavor, crunchy texture, and vibrant orange color. While various carrots come in many colors, they are most commonly orange; therefore, these substitutions will focus on the standard orange carrot.
Carrots are not only delicious but are also associated with health benefits, thanks to several nutrients, including vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), vitamin C, and fiber. Carrots are composed almost entirely of carbohydrates (fiber, starch, and sugar) and water, with very little protein or fat.
Common Uses For Carrots
Likely originating from Persia (now the region of Afghanistan and Iran) as early as the 1st century, the use of carrots expanded across East Asia and West Europe by the 18th century. As such, carrots are a traditional ingredient in a variety of recipes around the world. Their natural sweetness makes them a great addition to savory and sweet dishes alike. Carrots are often paired with aromatics such as garlic and onion as a base for curries, stews, soups, and broths.
Carrots are also served raw or pickled for a fresh side dish or garnish. Plus, carrots can be roasted, stir-fried, and glazed to soften the texture and bring out the mildly sweet taste. Of course, the quintessential carrot cake showcases the versatility of this popular root veggie.
Now that we've discussed the flavor profile, nutrition, and common preparations of carrots, let's dive into what we can use instead of carrots. It is often best to substitute by weight; however, I also give other substitution guidelines if you do not typically weigh your ingredients.
If you held up a parsnip and a carrot together, you might be inclined to call parsnips white carrots, which is one reason parsnips make for an ideal substitute. Because of their close relation, parsnips share a similar look, texture, nutrient profile, and mild taste with carrots. However, parsnips also have a unique flavor described as peppery, spiced, or licorice-like. As such, they lend a little better to savory dishes or sweet dishes with plenty of warm spices to stand up to the slightly more robust flavor. Substitute 1 medium parsnip for 1-2 medium carrots.
Orange, mildly sweet, and also packed with vitamin A, sweet potatoes make a great substitute for carrots. The significant difference between carrots and sweet potatoes lies in the starch content. Sweet potatoes have about six times as much starch as carrots. Sweet potatoes can be an excellent choice for soups, curries, baking, and roasting. However, I would select a different option if you want a low-carb carrot substitute. Substitute 1 medium sweet potato for 3-4 medium carrots.
Winter squash, particularly butternut squash, might be the best carrot substitute if you are trying to replace several carrots. Butternut squash shares a similar texture, taste, and nutrient profile to carrots. They can easily mimic the taste of carrots in soups, stews, curries, roasts, stir-fries, and even baking. They are a bit of a beast to break down, but you can often purchase pre-cut. One butternut squash can replace up to 8 medium carrots. Smaller, sweeter varieties, such as the honeynut squash, can replace just a few carrots, though!
Rutabaga and Turnips
Both root veggies, rutabaga and turnips can make a good replacement for carrots, especially when cooked to help emphasize their sweeter flavors. Related to cabbage, both of these veggies can taste a bit bitter, with turnips tasting a bit more bitter and sharper. Slightly sweeter and milder, rutabaga are your best bet between the two. However, both veggies can play well when an earthy flavor profile, such as in soups or sheet pan roasts. A turnip can replace about 2 medium carrots, whereas a rutabaga can replace about 3.
Do not confuse daikon for red radishes, as daikon radishes are much larger, have a white color, and have a mild flavor. Because of their milder taste and crisp texture, daikon can make a great alternative to carrots in slaws, salads, and stir-fries. Because of its popularity in East Asian cuisine, using daikon radishes in place of carrots can make a lot of sense for dishes from this region. Substitute about 1 medium daikon radish for 1 medium carrot.
Bell peppers share a lightly sweet flavor and high water content with carrots, though they can also have a bit of a vegetal flavor. They can also share an orange color, making them a wonderful substitute when the color is vital to your dish. Additionally, bell pepper can function as an aromatic, as demonstrated with the Spanish sofrito and Cajun holy trinity, which serve as the flavorful base in many delicious recipes. Substitute 1 medium bell pepper for 1 carrot. Green bell peppers will have a more vegetal flavor, with the sweetest peppers being red.
Another popular vegetable in baking, grating zucchini into your baked goods can produce a similar end result. However, zucchini have a higher water content and a bit less sugar. As such, consider adapting your recipe to have a bit more sugar and give the grated zucchini a squeeze to remove some water before adding it to your batter. Avoid large zucchini as they tend to have thicker skin, mushier centers, and larger seeds, all of which differ from carrots. One small zucchini can replace about 2 medium carrots.
Celery Root and Parsley Root
Celery and parsley root have similar flavors to their greens, but the taste can be more assertive. As they are also roots, they have a similar texture to carrots. Because their flavor is stronger, they work best in savory meals. When starting a sauce or soup, you could use the celery root to replace the celery and carrots! 1 medium celery or parsley root can replace 1-2 medium carrots. Err on the side of less celery or parsley root than carrot, as the flavor is more potent.
An underrated veggie, jicama is a crispy and lightly sweet carrot alternative. This nutritious vegetable is a good source of fiber and offers fresh salads and slaws a delicate flavor with a crisp texture. Jicama can also be baked for a result similar to other roasted root veggies. 1 jicama can replace about 2-3 medium carrots.
Delightfully crisp due to their high moisture content, cucumber can be an excellent replacement for carrots in raw preparations. Cucumbers are the perfect crisp pairing with veggie dips and dressings. A large cucumber can replace 3-4 medium carrots.
Best Carrot Substitutes by Common Use
Already have a recipe in mind? Here are my recommendations, categorized by use, to help you find the perfect substitute for your recipe.
Baking (Carrot Cake)
For baking, try grated parsnips, rutabaga, or zucchini. If using zucchini, squeeze out some water. These alternatives are all featured in spice cakes similar to carrot cake, so they will produce a similar result. If you want to foray into recipes aside from your tried and true carrot cake, consider this a sign to try a new recipe written specifically for one of these carrot alternatives! Though, I wouldn't blame you for sticking with an oldie but goodie.
Sauce, Soup, Curries (Mirepoix, Soffritto/Battuto)
Consider finely chopped parsnips, celery or parsnip root, or bell peppers when looking for an aromatic alternative to carrots to serve as a flavorful sauce, soup, or stock base. All of them will provide some earthy and sweet flavors similar to carrots. To replace sliced or roughly chopped carrots, like in a noodle soup, rutabaga, parsnips, butternut squash, daikon radish, or bell peppers could suffice. Finally, try butternut squash or parsnips if the soup, sauce, or curry is blended.
Slaws and Salads
Daikon radishes, bell peppers, jicama, and cucumber can all work great, sliced or chopped for fresh preparations.
Seared or Roasted (Sides)
To replace a carrot-centric side, I'd recommend parsnips, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, or turnips. You can even combine several for a hearty and flavorful side dish!
Jicama, bell peppers, zucchini, or daikon radish play well with umami stir-fry sauces and seasonings. They also all have a nice crisp inner texture perfect for the light sear of stir fry!
Looking to replace that bag of baby carrots in a lunch box? Try cutting jicama, cucumber, bell peppers, or daikon radish into sticks for a similar experience that tastes great with dips.
Smoothies and Juice
Sweet potato and butternut squash are tasty in smoothies. Cook them before freezing for the sweetest flavor and creamiest texture. These are also great for juicing. Cucumber is also great for juice, though you may want to add more apple or other fruit as cucumber does not have as much sugar as carrots.
Parsley or cilantro can make a good substitute for carrot tops. Likewise, you can save carrot greens to use like parsley, so they don't go to waste!
Among the vegetables I have described above, parsnips are the most similar to carrots in most facets, likely because they are closely related.
Butternut squash and sweet potatoes are not close enough related to carrots to be the same allergy concern and can make for great carrot alternatives!
Among the best alternatives to carrots, the lowest in carbohydrates are bell peppers, daikon radishes, cucumbers, and zucchini.
Wow, you made it all the way to the end?! Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you found this guide for carrot substitutes helpful! Please let me know how the substitute you chose worked out in your recipe in the comments below. I'm happy to help with any troubleshooting. Thank you!