Some baby carrots are harvested early to create delicate, finger-sized edibles, and a few varieties are genetically predisposed to diminutive size, but some baby carrots are not babies at all — they're chopped or whittled down from regular-sized carrots.
So when did growers start whittling carrots down into smooth, miniature versions of regular carrots? The idea is generally credited to a California carrot farmer named Mike Yurosek, whose operation needed a way to deal with the daily loss of 400 tons (363 metric tons) of carrots that were too misshapen to fit into the bags his company used for retail sale.
Yurosek experimented with peeling and shaping a few bags of crooked carrots into a "baby" size and sent them to a customer, a grocery chain that almost immediately demanded more. The process was later industrialized, using machines to cut, peel, grind and polish the carrots into bite-sized form.
"There are so many people," said David Just, professor of behavioral economics at Cornell, in a Washington Post article, "who honestly believe there are baby carrot farmers out there who grow these baby carrots that pop out of the ground and are perfectly convenient and smooth."
The advent of the two-bite perfectly sculpted "baby-cut" carrot grew the United States' carrot consumption by leaps and bounds. In 1987, one year after they hit the marketplace, people were buying 30 percent more carrots. A decade later, the average American was eating 117 percent more carrots than before, an estimated 14 pounds (6.35 kilograms) per year. By the 2000s, the baby carrot had come to dominate the fresh-cut vegetable category.
It's fairly easy to tell the difference between a carrot that is naturally small and one that is cut: Larger carrots ground down to baby carrot size are labeled "baby-cut," while carrots that have been harvested in their infancy are labelled "baby carrots."