If beets aren't part of your dinner menu, they should be. Naturally low in calories, beets are a source of fibre and they're packed with folate and potassium. What's more, the same pigment that gives beets their vibrant colour - anthocyanins - has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Beets also contain betaine, a natural compound with anti-aging properties. Betaine has been shown to protect cells from aging by helping protect the liver from chemical damage and reducing inflammation in the body.
Beet greens are also packed with nutrients. When you buy fresh beets, save the greens for a side dish (sautéed beet greens are especially tasty), or use them in a soup or salad. Beet greens are an excellent source of vitamin K and deliver notable amounts of magnesium, iron and potassium. They're also an outstanding source of lutein, an antioxidant that helps protect your eyes from macular degeneration and cataract.
Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) cooked beets:
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
While traditionally garnet-red, new varieties of beets are available in a range of colours, including yellow and white.
Some of the most popular varieties of beets include:
Chioggia, a sweet tasting Italian heirloom with distinct red and white stripes; Detroit Dark Red, a popular variety with a deep-red colour, and round shape that is 2-3 inches in diameter; Formanove, a cylindrical shaped beet that can be up to 8-inches long and Golden, a carrot-coloured beet that tastes just like red beets.
Beets belong to the chenopod family of vegetables which also includes chard, spinach and quinoa.
The growing season for beets extends from late summer to late spring, although they are available year round in most grocery stores.
When buying fresh beets, choose ones that are firm to the touch with a smooth skin. Choose beets with skin that is dry and taut; wrinkled or soft skin indicates beets are old and past their prime. If beets still have the greens attached, look for ones with small, bright and crispy leaves, which are indications of freshness.
Small to medium beets (up to 3 inches in diameter) are younger and are therefore are more tender than larger beets.
Start by cutting the majority of the greens and their stems from the beet, so they don't pull away moisture away from the root. Leave about two inches of the stem attached to prevent the roots from "bleeding." Do not wash beets before storing, as this will cause them to spoil quickly.
To store beets, loosely wrap them in paper towel and store them in the crisper in the fridge for up to a week. Alternatively, wrap them in a plastic bag and keep them in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Beets can also be stored in a root cellar or other cool, dark place.
Fresh cooked beets can be frozen for up to 10 months. Be sure to peel beets before freezing them in an airtight container.
Some people shy away from beets because they can take a long time to prepare and can be messy. Consider preparing beets in advance for quick use as a side dish or in salads. What many people don't know is that beets can be eaten raw - they are delicious when grated into a salad or thinly sliced and added as a sandwich topping.
To bake beets, preheat oven to 400°F. Gently wash and scrub beets to remove any dirt and then trim the stem and end using a sharp knife. Tightly wrap whole beets in aluminum foil and bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until they are tender and can easily be pierced with a fork. Remove beets from oven, when they are cool enough to handle, gently peel the skin off with your hands, or a sharp paring knife.
In a microwaveable dish, add 1/4 cup of liquid to one pound of beets. Cover and cook on high power until tender. Cooking time will vary with the number, size and age of the beets. Check frequently.
Like most vegetables, beets are a great candidate for steaming. Cook in a vegetable steamer over boiling water until tender and easily pierced with a fork.
Beets can be messy to prepare. To prevent red-stained hands, wear plastic gloves while slicing or peeling beets. To avoid a crimson-stained counter when preparing beets, place a layer of waxed paper over your work surface. Also, when combining beets with other vegetables, always add them last or they'll discolor the other food.
There is no shortage of ways to enjoy beets. Their sweet flavour and signature crimson red colour make them a welcome addition to a variety of dishes, including soups, salads, sandwiches and side dishes.
Healthy ways to enjoy:
- Start your day right with a beet smoothie. In a blender, combine 2 small beets (chopped and pre-cooked) with ¾ cup sliced strawberries, ½ cup low fat milk, ½ cup orange juice and 1 tsp honey; blend until smooth.
- Warm up with a bowl of borscht, a traditional Russian soup made with beets. Click here for a recipe.
- Make a hearty salad by combining grated carrots and grated raw beets with baby spinach and chickpeas; top with a handful of dried cranberries and a vinaigrette.
- Add grated beets as a sandwich topping.
- Don't have time to cook beets? Thinly slice raw beets and sprinkle them with fresh lemon juice and some chili powder for a tasty side-dish.
- Make a colourful salad by tossing chopped roasted beets, baby greens, pomegranate seeds, tangerines and feta cheese - drizzle with equal amounts olive oil and lemon juice.
- Finish off a meal with beet cake - delicious and nutritious! Click here for the recipe.
- Make beet chips! Preheat oven to 400°F. Using a mandolin, thinly slice four beets. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and sea salt (to taste). Spread evenly on a cookie sheet and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning halfway through, until crisp.
Did you know?
- Lemon juice can help remove beet stains from your hands and fingers.
- An estimated 15 percent of adults experience beeturia, which causes the urine to turn red shortly after eating beets. While the condition itself is harmless, people with iron deficiency, iron excess and problems with iron metabolism are much more likely to experience beeturia, than people who normally process iron.
- Beets were first domesticated in the Mediterranean region.
- A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dish is Red Beet Eggs - hardboiled eggs are marinated in the liquid leftover from pickling beets until they turn a deep purplish-red colour.