Some people hold their noses when encountering beets, because the earthy flavor is often an acquired taste. Yet these ancient vegetables and their greens have been prized by many European cultures for their medicinal properties and versatility, not just as a healthy food choice, but also to make sugar and hair dyes. A number of people soured on beets because the vegetables were most frequently served pickled, and harsh canning vinegars masked the root’s delicate sweetness.
There are a number of ways to enjoy beets and their greens—yes, remember to eat the nutritious greens!—so you receive not only an ample serving of vitamins and minerals but also the advantage of the sweet, earthy flavor of fresh beets. Steam them lightly and serve on a bed of romaine lettuce, chopped apples, and blue cheese crumbles. Bake the bulbs in foil and later mix in with other roasted vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, then enjoy along with juicy chicken. Also consider boiling beet greens for a minute or two, add steamed kale and Swiss chard, then tossing all greens with olive oil, a pinch of salt, and slivered almonds for a healthy lunch.
The beet you’re most familiar with is the Detroit Dark Red, or garden beet. It’s a purple-red round bulb about the size of a baseball, attached to a thatch of deep green leaves about a foot long.
There are other varieties your grocery may stock as well, including the slender tan Cylindras, the baby red Chioggias, the Whites, and the Baby Golds. Each one has a slightly different flavor profile.
Although beets are used to make sugar, most people don’t readily identify beets as a sweet vegetable. They taste something like a combination of a mushroom and a carrot: earthy, hearty, and slightly bitter. Roasting brings out the sweetness in beets, as its natural sugars caramelize in the heat. Certain varieties of beets, especially Baby Gold and the Cylindra, are much sweeter than the more common garden beet, often the Detroit Dark Red variety.
Beets, especially the Detroit Dark Red variety, are readily available at most supermarkets. Heirloom and specialty varieties are often found at health-food stores and farmers’ markets during high season.
Beets are generally a cool weather crop, available in abundance from fall until spring in the United States, and September through April in Europe. But with modern cultivation methods, many beet varieties are available all year long.
When you purchase fresh beets, the greens are usually still attached. So look for greens that are firm and bright green. Beet bulbs should also be firm, with smooth skin, and a vibrant color, be it red, gold, or variegated. Many people prefer smaller beets, as they’re usually more tender, but larger bulbs are fine, too, especially for roasting.
Avoid beets with wilted greens, or bruises or pockmarks on the bulb.
Organic vegetables are noted for having a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals because the soil is free of leaching pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. Pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides may cause hormonal imbalance and complications with the nervous system. These chemicals may also increase erosion, contaminate ground water, and contribute to the devastation of honey bee populations, which are important pollinators in our ecosystem.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. Beets and beet greens don’t appear on any EWG list, so eating either conventionally grown or organic vegetables should be fine.
The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
If you purchase fresh beets with greens attached, cut off the greens, leaving about two inches of stem on the root, and store them in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper for about three to four days. Store your trimmed beet roots unwashed in a sealed plastic bag with much of the air removed, and your beets will stay fresh in the crisper for about three weeks.
You can freeze cooked beets for about a month, but don’t freeze raw beets—they’ll get mushy when thawed.
Beet juice is a popular natural dye, so if you don’t want your fingers and clothes stained when handling beets, make sure to wear kitchen gloves and an apron. If you’ve purchased raw beets with the greens attached, cut away the greens and set aside. Then rinse your beet roots under cool running water and wipe away any dirt.
Many chefs believe beets are easier to peel after cooking, so simply cut away the tip and slice the roots into quarters. If you choose to enjoy beets raw, you don’t have to peel beets completely—just a light pass with a vegetable peeler should do the trick.
Slow-roast or lightly steam beets to retain their nutritional value. Once they’re cooked, you can rub away the skin with a paper towel. If using raw beets for salads, you can grate or dice them. Juicing beets is also popular.
And those beet greens? They contain a number of nutrients as well, so wash them thoroughly, and lightly steam to serve as a side dish alone or with a mixture of other healthy greens, such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
Far more than protecting the body from the common cold, this immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk.
Magnesium is responsible for promoting cardiovascular health, muscle contraction and relaxation, energy production, and proper bone formation. This essential nutrient may also be helpful in regulating healthy blood-sugar levels, decreasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.
Usually, vegetables are good for you whether you enjoy them raw or cooked. But raw beets have a greater nutritional impact than cooked beets. You receive higher amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese. When combined, these minerals enhance brain, nerve, and muscle function. Raw beets also provide you with a strong amount of folate and vitamin C, which improve metabolism, detoxification, and immunity. Studies indicate raw beet juice is also important to maintain stamina during exercise. Cooked beets are good for you as well, but if you can grate raw beets into your salad or juice them once in a while, you’ll notice the benefits.
- Beets are considered by some nutritionists to be a “good mood food,” because they contain tryptophan and betalaines, both properties that prompt relaxation, reduce inflammation, and create a sense of better well-being.
- The beet is a prehistoric vegetable that originated in Northern Africa.
- Red beets are often associated with sex and love. Many ancient cultures, such as the Greeks and Romans, used beets as an aphrodisiac, and people of modern cultures still believe that if two people eat from the same beet, they’ll fall in love.