It seems the world is divided when it comes to beets…either you love them or you hate them thanks to our human extra-sensitivity to a substance in them called geosmin, which gives them a relatively earthy taste; but sadly enough, beets are definitely not a common item in kitchens. Why not?! I admit it, this article is absolutely biased. There is not one single thing I could think of that’s wrong with beets…except that perhaps they will absolutely ruin anything that’s white in your kitchen…
Commonly know as the beet, the beetroot is actually the taproot portion of the beet plant, a cultivated variety grown for their edible taproots and leaves (called beet greens). Interestingly enough, other than as a food, beets have had other uses in history as a food coloring agent & for medicinal purposes. From the Middle Ages, beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood.
Beets are actually an ancient, prehistoric food that grew naturally along coastlines in North Africa, Asia, and Europe; they are said to have grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon! Originally, it was the beet greens that were consumed; the sweet red beet root wasn’t cultivated until the era of Ancient Rome. By then, the natural sweetness of beets came to be appreciated and used as a source of sugar, even though the beets that are used for sugar consumption are a different type than the beets that we purchase in a store nowadays. Today, sugar beets (unfortunately often genetically modified) are a common raw material, but common cultivars of beets for our general consumption include the Albino, Chioggia, Cylindra, Early Wonder, Golden Beet, Red Ace, Ruby Queen, and Touchstone Gold, all in hues ranging from the common dark red color to white, yellow, and even a candy cane red-&-white!
As a food, a bundle of beetroot can be eaten in a good number of ways. Usually the deep purple roots are eaten boiled, roasted, or raw, and either alone or combined with any salad. A large portion of the commercial production is processed into boiled & sterilized beets or pickles. In Eastern Europe, beet soup, such as borscht, is a popular dish. The green, leafy portion of the beet is also edible: the young leaves can be added raw to salads and the mature leaves are most commonly boiled or steamed, much like spinach or Swiss chard. A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dish is pickled beet egg. Hard-boiled eggs are refrigerated in the liquid left over from pickling beets and allowed to marinate until the eggs turn a deep pink-red color. In Poland & Ukraine, beet is combined with horseradish to form the popular burachky, which is traditionally used with cold cuts & sandwiches. A slice of pickled beetroot is popular on a beef patty in Australia to make an Aussie burger. My very own adventures with beets led me to a delicious beet soup I was surprised with & will be soon posting!
Delicious & nutrition? Raw beetroot is actually 88% water, 10% carbs, 2% protein, and less than 1% fat – and is a rich source of folate & manganese. With an impressive nutritional profile, beets are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. Studies have shown that beets significantly reduce blood pressure in hypertensive people, thanks to their high concentration of nitrates. They can also helps enhance athletic performance by improving oxygen use & time to exhaustion, have a number of anti-inflammatory effects, improve digestive health by providing a good source of fiber, and many other attributes that make them so much more better for you, the best one being (according to those naughty Romans): aphrodisiac!
Aside from all these magical benefits, we – the beet lovers of the world – can’t say it loud enough: they are incredibly delicious! They can be juiced, roasted, steamed, or pickled. I’ve even had beet chips and, man, are they tasty! With their high sugar content, they add a great touch to anything in any form they’re served.