Get that perfect beet, boys*

It’s late June, and the beets that were planted at the start of the growing season have begun to appear in our backyard gardens, at the grocery store, and down at the farmers’ market.

Detroit-dark-red-beetsWhat we talk about, when we talk about beets. Although the whole plant is edible, usually when we talk about beets, we’re talking about the beet taproot (the part that grows below ground), the Beta vulgaris for you nerds who like plant taxonomy.

Usually we eat these deep purple roots of beetroot boiled or roasted (and some folks like them raw). Beets can be a dish unto themselves, or they are a nice component to combine with some other kind of salad-ish vegetable.

If you buy ready-made, canned beets, you’ll be eating boiled and sterilized beets, or pickles. You probably already guessed we’d say this, but beets are a super-easy vegetable to make at home, and will taste a hundred times better than the store-bought kind. We’ve got a whole bunch of beet recipes in the AllSpice recipe database.

In Eastern Europe, beet soup, such as borscht, is a popular dish. In Indian cuisine, chopped, cooked, spiced beet is a common side dish.

Most beets that you find at the grocery store here in Iowa are deep purple, but a few heirloom varieties you can find at the farmers’ market are bright yellow (“golden” beets) or concentric “peppermint” pink and white striped (Chioggia beets).

Little-known beet facts: Other than as a food, beets have use as a food coloring and as a medicinal plant. For example, beginning in the Middle Ages, beetroot was used as a treatment for a range of physical conditions, especially those relating to digestion and the blood.

We haven’t tested this ourselves, but Bartolomeo Platina recommended taking beetroot with garlic to counteract the effects of “garlic-breath”.

During the middle of the 19th century, the juice of the beet root was frequently used for adding color to red wine.

Eat your (purple and) greens. The green, leafy (above-ground) portion of the beet is also edible. Some people add young, raw beet leaves to salads, and the mature beet leaves are usually served cooked or steamed, which gives them a taste and texture like cooked spinach.

That perfect beet: For the tastiest results, choose fresh beets with intact, unmarked bulbs and . Try to avoid those with overly limp leaves or wrinkled skins, both of which are signs of dehydration.

Good for you, too. Raw beetroot is 88% water, 10% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and less than 1% fat. Low in calories, a 100 gram portion of beets has just 43 Calories. Raw beetroot is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals (esp folate and manganese), can reduce blood pressure, and can help improve endurance among athletes.

*With a tip of the nib to Bronski Beat for the punny title for the story 🙂