Whether you roast it whole, blend into a classic soup or drink as juice like the Olympians do - beetroot is low in fat, full of vitamins and minerals and packed with powerful antioxidants - a health-food titan.
An introduction to beetroot
Like many modern vegetables, beetroot was first cultivated by the Romans. By the 19th century it held great commercial value when it was discovered that beets could be converted into sugar. Today, the leading commercial producers include the USA, Russia, France, Poland and Germany. Many classic beetroot recipes are associated with central and Eastern Europe including the famous beetroot soup known as borscht. Beetroot's earthy charm has resulted in its ubiquitous influence on fashionable menus and recipes. Its delicious but distinctive flavour and nutritional status have escalated it to the root you can't beat!
Belonging to the same family as chard and spinach, both the leaves and root can be eaten - the leaves have a bitter taste whereas the round root is sweet. Typically a rich purple colour, beetroot can also be white or golden. Due to its high sugar content, beetroot is delicious eaten raw but is more typically cooked or pickled.
Beetroot is of exceptional nutritional value; especially the greens, which are rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of fibre, manganese and potassium. The greens should not be overlooked; they can be cooked up and enjoyed in the same way as spinach.
A 100g serving of raw beets provides:
36 kcals 1.7g protein 0.1g fat 7.6g carbs 2.5g fibre
Historical health uses
The plant pigment that gives beetroot its rich, purple-crimson colour is betacyanin; a powerful agent, thought to help suppress the development of some types of cancer.
Beetroot is rich in fibre, exerting favourable effects on bowel function, which may assist in preventing constipation and help to lower cholesterol levels too.
Beetroot fibre has been shown to increase the number of white blood cells, which are responsible for detecting and eliminating abnormal cells. Red beetroots have been ranked as one of the 10 most potent antioxidant vegetables and are also one of the richest sources of glutamine, an amino acid, essential to the health and maintenance of the intestinal tract.
Other studies have looked at the effect of beetroot juice on blood pressure. A reduction in blood pressure is beneficial for the avoidance of heart disease and stroke. Studies state that nitrate rich foods like beetroot may help in heart attack survival.
Beetroot juice has gained popularity since Paralympic gold medalist David Weir announced that a shot of the juice was his secret to success.
How to select and store
Good quality, fresh beetroots should have their greens intact. The greens should be fresh-looking with no signs of spoilage. The beetroot should be firm, smooth, and a vibrant red-purple, not soft, wrinkled or dull in colour. Fresh beets with the greens attached can be stored for three to four days in the fridge, but beets with the greens removed can be stored in the fridge for two to four weeks. Raw beets do not freeze well since they tend to become soft on thawing. Freezing cooked beetroot is fine as it retains its flavour and texture.
Tip: Slightly limp greens can be restored to freshness if stored in the refrigerator in water. However, if it's too late, you can simply cut them off.
Wash beets gently under cool running water, taking care not to tear the skin. It is this tough outer layer that helps keep most of the beetroot's pigments inside the vegetable. The leaves can be steamed lightly to retain their nutritional quality. When boiling beetroot, leave the beets with their root ends and one inch of stem attached and don't peel them until after cooking since beet juice can stain your skin.
Tip: If your hands become stained during preparation and cooking beetroot, rub some lemon juice over them to help remove the colour.
Though available year round, beets are sweetest and most tender during their peak season, from June to October. Beets are enjoying a resurgence in popularity among modern chefs. While heirloom varieties like white and golden yellow beets make for pretty dishes, only red beets have the cancer-fighting compound betacyanin.
For some people, eating beetroot may induce beeturia; a red or pink colour in the urine or stool. It is totally harmless! Beet greens and, to a lesser extent, the roots contain high levels of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid over-consuming beetroot.