Smart Fuel: Beets

Haven’t been eating your beets? Don’t beat yourself up (see what we did there), because technically they’re out of season right now. But with spring fast approaching, perhaps it’s time to dig deeper and examine what these little purple monsters have to offer!

Hailing from South Africa, the beet – which is a relative of Swiss chard and a member of the Chenopodiaceae family – was initially cast off in Northern Europe as nothing more than animal chow. However, in the 16th century, Romans began eating the green leaves of the root vegetables and by the 19th century, they had become less picky and began eating the whole darn thing! In doing so, it was discovered that beets were an excellent source of natural sugar – so much so that Napoleon declared them Poland’s primary source of sugar after the British put the squeeze on other sugar sources during the war!

Although here at Mark’s Daily Apple, we wouldn’t normally tout such a high-sugar vegetable, the Beet has a number of redeeming qualities. First, the pigment that gives beets their rich purple hue (betacyanin) has been found to be a powerful cancer-fighting agent, especially for tumors affecting the colon and stomach, and may also mitigate the damaging effects of nitrates (the bad compounds found in hotdogs, bologna and other overly-processed meats!) For pregnant women, meanwhile, just one cup of beets provides 136 micrograms of the B vitamin folate (or about a third of the 400 microgram daily requirement), which is important for fetal development. Rounding out the beets nutrition profile, they are also considered a very good source manganese and potassium – which are important for blood pressure regulation – as well as vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.

When selecting beets, look for small- to medium-sized roots that are firm and smooth skinned. While most people recognize beets based on their deep purple color, it should be noted that beets are also available in white, champagne and gold varieties. If you’re planning on eating the beets for its leaves (how very Roman of you!), look for leaves that are bright green and appear fresh and tender.

When storing beets, exercise caution: Despite their tough-as-nails name, beets are actually rather delicate and are susceptible to bruising and can even bleed (Literally. A slash to the skin can cause the red pigment to be released during cooking!) Beet roots can last for up to about four weeks if stored correctly – preferably unwashed in the refrigerator crisper. If storing the leaves alone, wash and store in a plastic bag at the bottom of the fridge.

When its time to handle beets, it might be useful to throw on a pair of rubber gloves – the pigment can easily stain hands. Too late for the gloves advice? The purple coloring can be reversed by rubbing hands with a wedge of lemon or dousing them with lemon juice. From there, it’s best to boil beets with their skin on (to prevent bleeding) and peel them after, or you can also broil or sauté them for inclusion in stir-frys, casseroles and other vegetable-laden dishes. Alternatively, beets are also delicious when added raw to sweeten up vegetable juice (and make it a more palatable pink color!), and are also good when grated and added to salads and soups.

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31 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Beets”

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  1. I grate raw beets onto my salad. It makes my whole salad pink, but I like the earthy flavor.

  2. Thanks for highlighting beets! Here in the Northwest, we can still get local beets at the farmers’ market, so they are still seasonally available in some places. It also varies by type of beet; some hearty varieties can stay in the ground through much of the winter in many areas. As with most crops, though, there are far fewer varieties of beets grown today than were once grown.

  3. I have to correct a few inaccuracies in this post.

    First of all, Huckleberry is right that beets are still in season. It’s a root crop that stays in the soil through the winter in many places.

    Ancient Rome no longer existed in the 16th century.

    The ancestor of the modern beet (Beta vulgaris maritima) is indigenous to the Mediterranean, not South Africa.

    And they aren’t all that high in sugar. They have about 50% more than a turnip.

  4. By the way, beyond the color categories mentioned, there are also multicolored varieties such as Chioggia, whose insides form concentric red and white circles (I think the ones in the picture are actually Chioggia). Even within each color category (like dark red/purple) there are assorted varieties, including round ones and elongated ones.

  5. I often grate raw beets on salads too…and always grate with rubber gloves onto a paper plate or wax paper in the sink.

    Question for other beet lovers – being a color freak, I was all excited one day to find organic yellow beets at the store – until I tried them. They were very bitter raw, and didn’t taste much better cooked. I’m wondering if I just got a bad batch, or if they tned ot be on the bitter side.

  6. Sasquatch,

    Gotta be careful around you 🙂

    1) We said “technically” they are not in season. The fact that you can still find them in the ground in winter doesn’t mean they are “in season.”

    2) Duly noted about ancient Rome. We changed it to just plain old Romans.

    3) Duly noted about Mediterraen. I’ll take your your word on that.

    4) Beets low in sugar? 30% of the world’s sugar comes from “sugar beets” that were cultivated from the original beta vulgaris.

  7. Hey Mark,

    Sugar beets are a different variety than the ones you find in the grocery store. They’re bred for very high sugar content and they probably taste awful.

    Regular supermarket beets have a bit more sugar than carrots per unit weight. So they’re sweet by vegetable standards I suppose. Sorry for the nitpicking; just trying to keep you on your toes 🙂

    1. Sugar beets are awesome! They’re HUGE!
      We used to steal them off the (then still organic) fields in Germany.
      They taste sooo darn good thrown into a small camp fire for like 10 minutes (wrapped in alu foil)….omg and the smell 🙂

      Very delicious. Sugar beets used to be THE Halloween candy during my childhood, 70’s and 80’s.

  8. Karen:

    Try slow-roasting the yellow beets in their skins. Peel and slice, then dress them in a little red wine vinegar, olive oil and dill. Add a tsp. of honey to the dressing if the beets haven’t released enough sugar during roasting.

  9. Love me some beets. Just went to the Farmer’s Market and got a dozen.

  10. Roasted beets are absolutely wonderful! Try some lemon juice on them and toss with some feta. The feta turns pink but that’s okay. A beet-feta salad is awesome.

  11. Beets are very popular in Russia and many other countries of former Soviet Union. There are a few dishes that are made with beets, and they are in fact quite primal.
    There is borscht, which is basically a beef soup with beets. Here is the very primal recipe,1618,149177-226200,00.html

    There is vinaigrette, which is a salad made with beets, sauerkraut, and potatoes. Here is the recipe You can do it without potatoes I guess.

    There is famous “herrings in shuba” This one is a holiday dish – very tasty. It is also made with potatoes (Russians eat a lot of potatoes), but I am pretty sure that it will taste well even without potatoes. It is also very rich in mayonnaise, which probably has a bit sugar in it, but mostly it is just oil, and you can find one made with olive oil.

  12. Nice points…I would note that as someone who really doesn’t remark to blogs much (actually, this can be my first put up), I don’t suppose the term “lurker” may be very flattering to a non-posting reader. It’s not your fault at all, however maybe the blogosphere could provide you with a greater, non-creepy identify for the ninety% of us that take pleasure in studying the posts.

  13. Beets play a pivotal role in Tom Robbin’s novel Jitterbug Perfume. He exaggerates the health benefits (I won’t say how. You should read the book!), but it is what got me started eating them!

  14. Are canned beets acceptable? I’ve always enjoyed opening a can of cold beets and macking!

  15. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned “beeturia” or “red feces” Beets make my urine red/pinkish and my poop red as well. It’s scary when you first see this, but then you remember what you ate!

  16. All I can say is if you haven’t had a smoked beet salad – you have to go there.

    When smoking salmon I throw some raw beets in the smoker – awesome.

  17. Another great recipe for beetroot|;
    Cut beetroot in quarters & place in baking dish
    Add some coconut butter and balsamic
    Cover with foil and slow roast till just tender
    Great with some Crème Fraiche

  18. Just roasted some for the first time last night. Took two gold and two red, 1+ tablespoon of coconut oil, salt & pepper, wrapped in foil and baked for 45 min at 375. Yum!! Can’t believe I didn’t try them sooner.

  19. roasted beets, pears and walnut salad, add some feta sparingly. use nice bib lettuce and some of the beet greens chopped and in the salad. use walnut oil to make a simple vinaigrette dressing with fresh herbs and a bit of cider vinegar…

  20. Naturopathic medicine is showing wonderful benefits to help protect the heart. A new Canadian study suggests that the naturopathic like the beets approach will decrease cardiovascular risk and lower the incidence of metabolic syndrome, a condition which includes high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.