Beets are a root vegetable, and both the root and the green leaves are edible. In ancient civilizations, people ate only the green part of the beet plant. The roots, which did not have the enticing look of modern beets, were primarily used as medicine. There are conflicting accounts of when the rounded beets like those we eat today were developed, but it is estimated to be in the 1500s.
Beets—also called red beets, root beets, and table beets—belong to the botanical species Beta vulgaris. This species also includes sugar beets and swiss chard. Sugar beets are processed for sugar, and not eaten whole, while Swiss chard is grown for its greens, not its roots. Beets, as well as sugar beets and Swiss chard, are descended from a wild, slender-rooted plant called the “sea beet,” which originated on the coasts of the Mediterranean.
Types of Beets
Most beets in supermarkets are the familiar red beets. But these earthy root vegetables come in a variety of hues, including purple, pink, golden, white, and even striped beets.
Notable for their sweet, earthy flavor, beets have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, while still remaining very low in calories. And unlike many other vegetables, their full flavor is retained whether they are fresh or canned.
Interestingly, because of a genetic predisposition, some people cannot properly metabolize betacyanin, the pigment that gives beets their deep ruby color. The betayanin passes into their urine and feces, which turn pink or red for a day or two. This is harmless, and no cause for alarm.
How to Choose the Best Beets
Look for smooth, hard, round beets with no bruises on their surface. Try to pick equal-sized ones so that they will cook evenly.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Beets in the National Nutrient Database.
9 Ways to Serve Beets
Beets can intimidate some home cooks because they may “bleed” their ruby color, staining countertops and hands. Here are some simple tips to avoid that problem, and nine tasty ways to prepare beets.
Published September 29, 2015