Beetroot (beta vulgaris) is one of the vegetables that I’m slowly learning to use. Apparently, I adored it as a baby (who knew?!) but have strangely had an aversion to them after a taste test during my childhood. Poor Grandma fed me canned beets–blech! The real deal is much better, and it helps that my hubby loves them. Hence my careful journey into the culinary cuisine called beets.
Nowadays, beets can be found nearly year-round, though being a taproot they are best harvested in the summer and fall (June-October is the peak season) for organic produce. The main reason, I believe, that beets are found in abundance in grocery stories these days is because they are often used to produce sugar. In fact, the sugar beet accounts for as much as 20% of the world’s sugar production.
That being said, beets are highly nutritious. Belonging to the same family as chard and like greens, both the root and the greens can be eaten. The greens are bitter whereas the root, which could come in white, gold or the popular red-purple hues, is often sweet due to its high sugar content. The roots can be eaten raw but are more often steamed or boiled. When selecting beets in a store, make sure the greens are fresh-looking, but if they are slightly wilted, you can restore freshness by placing them in water in the refrigerator; if they are past freshness, simply cut them off and discard. (I made the mistake of cooking old greens once–newbie mistake, I know–and the amount of dirt we ate was incredible. We got our peck of dirt for the year!) Beets can be stored with the greens attached in the fridge for 3-5 days, but if the greens are removed they’ll keep 2-4 weeks. When removing greens, cut about two inches above the root to prevent “bleeding” and store greens in a separate perforated plastic bag (they’ll keep about four days). If freezing, cook the beets beforehand so they retain their texture and flavor.
Beet greens have higher nutritional value than the beetroot, containing calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C, though beetroot is full of folic acid, fiber, manganese and potassium. Both are sources of magnesium, phosphorous (good for calcium absorption), iron and vitamin B6. One 3.5-ounce serving of greens contains 27 calories and three grams of fiber. The same serving of the root provides 44 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrate, predominately sugars.
Having long been used for medicinal purposes, beets help stimulate liver detoxification processes. Studies suggest that beets have anticancer properties connected with their reddish-purple color, caused by betacyanin. Combined with fiber, betacyanin may be responsible for protecting against colon and stomach cancers. Researchers also suggest that the betaines in beets may help reduce the risks associated with heart disease and will reduce blood pressure for hypertensive patients. Furthermore, they have a favorable effect on bowel function.
Some people who eat beets may see red or pink discharge in their urine or stool, called beeturia. This is created by betanin, or beetroot red, a harmless compound that cannot be broken down by the body.
Below are a couple of interesting recipes I hope to try soon:
Murray, Michael N.D., Pizzorno, Joseph, N.D., with Pizzorno, Lara, M.A./L.M.T. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY, 2005; p. 164-166.
Margen, Sheldon, M.D., and editors of UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Wellness Foods, A to Z: And Indispensable Guide for Health-conscious Food Lovers. New York, NY, 2002; p. 192-193.
Wikipedia (articles linked above)