September 28, 2011

Caramelized Carrot Soup

Editor’s note: This is the original recipe that appeared in Modernist Cuisine. For the recipe we adapted for Modernist Cuisine at Home, click here.

One of the most important flavor-producing reactions in cooking is the Maillard reaction. In discussions of cooking, it is sometimes called “the browning reaction,” but that description is incomplete at best. Indeed, it really ought to be called “the flavor reaction,” not “the browning reaction.”

To be sure, the Maillard reaction does create pigments that lend cooked food a tasty brown hue. It all starts with amino acids and certain simple sugars. Heat and chemistry rearrange those relatively simple compounds into new molecules of rings and collections of rings. The molecules produced keep reacting in increasingly complex ways that generate literally hundreds of new compounds. Some are pigments that turn the food an appealing brown color. But beyond these are a wide array of delectable flavor and aroma compounds. It is mainly the Maillard reaction we have to thank for the potent and characteristic smells of roasting, baking, and frying.

Pressure cookers are particularly suited for promoting the high temperatures needed to accelerate both the Maillard reaction and caramelization. These two processes are frequently mistaken for each other. They do go hand in hand in many practical situations, but they involve different chemical reactions. Whether you are caramelizing the food or “Maillardizing” it, you want to raise the temperature well above the boiling point of water to get these reactions going at a good clip. In a pressure cooker, the temperature of the steam can rise well above 100 °C / 212 °F.

adapted from the recipe for Caramelized Carrot Soup on page 3·301 of Modernist Cuisine

Recipe Tags

, , , , , ,

Carotene butter, before and after centrifuging. Adding baking soda increases the Maillard reaction. Pressure-cooking increases both caramelization and the Maillard reaction. After cooking the carrots in a pressure cooker, blend them with carrot juice and carotene butter (or regular butter if no carotene butter is available). Caramelized carrot soup plated with coconut chutney foam, ajowan seeds, fresh tarragon, and baby carrots. Pouring Carrot Soup

Additional Tips

  • Make sure to core your carrots. The soup will be sweeter because the cores tend to carry a bitter aftertaste.
  • Melt the butter in the pressure cooker before adding the carrots. When you add the carrots, stir them until fully coated with butter. This will prevent burning.
  • Do not leave out the baking soda. Baking soda helps to facilitate the Maillard reaction.
  • When simmering the carrot juice, do so until you see a separation (a lighter orange layer will float to the top).
  • To make carotene butter, bring 2.2 kg of carrot juice to a simmer and blend in 1.4 kg of butter. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. Blend in another 800 g of carrot juice. Divide the mixture between an equal number of centrifuges, and then centrifuge the bottles at 27,500g for one hour. Refrigerate the mixture so that the butterfat solidifies. Strain out the congealed butterfat, reserving the carrot juice for another use. Warm the butterfat, and strain out all particulates. Refrigerate to set.
  • You can also make carotene butter without a centrifuge. Simmer the carrot juice and butter for 90 minutes instead of 30 minutes, and then let the mixture refrigerate overnight until the butterfat solidifies. Then strain, clarify, and refrigerate as described above.
  • Regular unsalted butter can be substituted for carotene butter.
  • If you are not using a centrifuge to clarify the carrot juice or carotene butter, strain them through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth.
  • Use silicone half-sphere molds to set the carotene butter. Vacuum seal a few together. You can freeze them for up to six months, or refrigerate them for up to two weeks.
  • For a smooth, consistent texture, run the pureed soup through a fine sieve before serving.
  • Look for ajowan seeds at Indian grocery stores or online spice sellers. The spelling may vary among brands because it is spelled differently in different regions of India. Ajowain, ajwain, ajwan, jowan, jwano, and jwamo all refer to the same ingredient.
  • Make sure to buy the ajowan seeds used for cooking, not those used for tea.
  • Leftover ajowan seeds are good when toasted and sprinkled over yogurt. In India, the seeds are a popular digestif.
  • Try pairing the carrot soup with coconut chutney foam; for a recipe, see page 4·282 or 6·325 of Modernist Cuisine. Use the seasonings as recommended in the recipe above, or sprinkle some chaat masala on top, either store-bought or from the recipe on page 5·282 or 6·50.

Previous recipe

Next recipe


  1. Shelly J. October 24, 2012 Reply

    I would have liked to see a bit of expansion on what the baking soda does. I seem to recall that it softens the cellular walls so that vegetables cook faster, but not completely sure. Time to go see if McGee says anything about that.

  2. Aaron Schroeder October 26, 2012 Reply

    So, according to the book, this caramelization technique is appropriate for a number of different vegetables. One that you don’t mention, though, is sweet potatoes. You see, I’m working on a dessert recipe for sweet potato tartlets, and I thought that ‘caramelizing’ the sweet potatoes, rather than simply baking them as most sweet potato tart recipes call for, might bring out some of their natural sweetness.

    So, to be brief: do you think this technique could work for a starchier vegetable like the sweet potato?



    • Sam Fahey-Burke November 15, 2012 Reply

      It will caramelize, just like the carrots. That sounds like a good idea! Let us know how it turns out!

  3. Colin G. October 28, 2012 Reply

    The baking soda raises the pH, speeding up the Maillard reaction. With the higher temp in the pressure cooker, it’s a double whammy Maillard boost. I believe you are correct, however, that a side effect of the soda is softening of cell walls.

  4. Spencer October 29, 2012 Reply

    Does baking soda have the same expediting properties with proteins?

  5. carmen October 31, 2012 Reply

    I am a fan of the conventional “carrot and ginger soup” and I love my pressure cooker. I am looking forward to trying the baking-soda-pressure-cooking-caramalization technique. Oh, where did I put that centrifuge…

    • Judy October 31, 2012 Reply

      Hi Carmen,

      You don’t need a centrifuge to enjoy this soup! You can make the carotene butter by simmering the butter and juice for 90 minutes and then letting it set overnight. You can also simmer the carrot juice and strain it instead of centrifuging it. This version of the soup appears in our new book, Modernist Cuisine at Home.

      Let us know how you like it!

  6. bethmalone November 3, 2012 Reply

    I have made this soup three times this week. It is fantastic and the Carotene Butter is amazing.

  7. Vinchilla November 12, 2012 Reply

    I made this soup with my dad last night and it was DELICIOUS, but the best part was that I got my dad to eat a vegetable! We are definitely going to make it again. I also just started a food blog, and I wrote my first blog post about this. You can see my blog in the link.

  8. Keith February 12, 2013 Reply


    Not sure you need to add the 7.5g of salt since carrots are high in sodium anyhoo. Just thinking of those with high blood pressure and anyone else on a sodium reduced diet.

  9. Mario March 6, 2013 Reply

    Any possibility of substituting butter with something suited for people allergic to milk? Would oil do?

    • Judy March 6, 2013 Reply

      Hi Mario,

      While we prefer butter, I have heard of readers doing this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay in touch

Sign up to stay up-to-date with everything Modernist Cuisine.

Sign Up