Growing up, my only exposure to beets involved the sliced, canned variety I would sometimes see on salad bars. I remember being apprehensive about the deep red color of this unfamiliar vegetable, but somewhere along the way I decided to give them a try – and I’m so glad that I did. I’ve found these sweet roots to be delicious in all sorts of preparations from smoothies to juices, and salads to pickles. Several years ago, Mark Bittman wrote in The New York Times’ “The Minimalist” column about eating beets raw – a concept I’d never previously entertained. His column convinced me to try it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. (My favorite preparation includes thinly sliced raw beets with orange segments, pistachio, and crumbled feta, tossed with a basic vinaigrette).
Beets have been cultivated for millennia – these delicious roots were even mentioned in texts describing the Hanging Gardens of Babylon! Perhaps owing to its deep red color – or maybe it was the sweet taste – ancient Romans considered beet juice to be an aphrodisiac. The ancient Greeks grew beets for the medicinal uses of both the leaves and roots. From the ﬁrst plantings along the Mediterranean coasts the Romans facilitated the spread of beet farming over Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and eventually the plant came to North America with the colonists. Today, we are luckily able to ﬁnd not only the most common red beet in our local markets, but also other interesting varieties such as golden and Chioggia (pink and white variegated) beets.
Let’s learn a bit about this ancient, colorful root before delving into preparation.
Did you know?
- Part of what makes beets so delicious is their sweetness – beets have among the highest sugar content of any vegetable.
- The type of beet (beetroot or table beet) we consume in plant form is related to the larger, white sugar beet, which is farmed commercially for the production of sucrose.
- Not only are beets delicious, the fully edible plant is also packed with nutrients, including vitamin C, from the tip of the root to the top of the leaves.
- The leaves (called beet greens) oﬀer a high concentration of nutrients per calorie (one cup of cooked beet root contains 75 calories; one cup of cooked beet greens contains 39 calories).
- Beets are related to other nutrient-rich members of the chenopod family including spinach, chard, and quinoa.
- Beets have historically been used to create deep, red hues for dyeing fabrics. This natural process can even be DIY-ed at home!
- For some consumers beets cause “beeturia,” characterized by the passing of the deep red dye through the body and resulting in reddened urine!
And without further adieu here are Oldways 12 Great Ways to Use Beets!
Love beets? Have great ideas to share? Tell us your favorite way to eat beets!