You either love them or hate them; find out how to grow, select and store beets, as well as a variety of ways to prepare them. Truly embrace beets!
Beets, or beetroot, is the taproot part of the beet plant. They can vary in size from that of a golf ball to the size of a baseball. Beneath a thin skin, they are a glorious ruby-red, white, golden, or a cat in the hat type (with red and white concentric rings), from Italy called Chioggia (pronounced key-ojj-a).
(Sugar beets are a type of beet that has been adapted purely for sugar production and it is only grown commercially.)
Beets are sweet with an earthy taste, which many love, but it’s not to everyone’s taste. However, this diminishes slightly when roasted and the sugars have had a chance to caramalise. The leaves become tender when cooked, with a rich flavour, similar to Swiss chard.
The beet taproot is mostly made up of water, is low in fat and high in fibre. They are super healthy as they are packed full of vitamins and minerals, with a good source of folate, manganese, folic acid and potassium. Endurance athletes swear by beet juice for its high nitrates which help to improve athletic performance and reduce blood pressure!
Possibly the earliest record we have of beets, is from an Assyrian text dating back to 800 BC, which describes beets growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The Ancient Greeks (300 BC), cultivated beets for its leaves, while the Romans were the first to use the root. Both civilisations recognised the plant for its medicinal uses. Beets soon spread throughout Europe under the Roman Empire.
During the Italian Renaissance, the 15th century humanist and gastronomist, Platina, recommended serving beetroot alongside foods with garlic to avoid garlic breath!
Beets are easy to grow for anyone new to gardening, indoors or outside. Plant them outdoors between April to July. Simply sow the seeds in rows, 1 inch deep and 3-4 inches apart, and wait 45 to 65 days for the plump beetroot to show above the soil.
To grow indoors, select a container at least 6 inches deep. Fill with soil and compost, with a ph of around 7. Position the container in full sun. Once seedlings appear, only water at the base of the plant.
They can be harvested when they are the size of a golf ball or up to the size of a tennis ball.
It is better to harvest them earlier when they are more tender.
Select unmarked beets for storing. Don’t wash them before storing, just dust the dirt off without breaking the skin.
With their greens – wrap them in kitchen roll and keep in the crisper drawer of the fridge. The greens should last 3-4 days.
Without their greens – The greens should be cut off from the bulb leaving a couple of inches of stalk. They will keep for up to a month in a zipped plastic bag.
Cooked beets – can be refrigerated for up to 5 days
Frozen – Raw beets become spongy when thawed out, but freshly cooked beets can be frozen. Boil, steam or roast them first, then rub the skins off/peel them. Small beets can be frozen whole, while the larger ones can be sliced or cut into cubes. Arrange them on a tray and freeze so they do not stick together. Then pack in airtight containers or freezer bags and freeze for up to 8 months.
The young greens can be also frozen – once they have been removed from the beet, they won’t last long. Clean them by rinsing, then blanch them first in boiling water for a minute and a half, before cooling in cold water. Freeze while they are still wet.
An opened jar of pickled beets will last 1-3 months in the fridge.
How to eat beets
- Young early season raw beets are wonderful grated or sliced thin in salads – for thin slices, consider using eye-catching chioggia beets!
- They are wonderful in soups, like Borscht, from Eastern Europe.
- Australians roast slices of beets on a BBQ and put them in burgers.
- Roasted in salad – try Roasted beets with carrot, Stilton & sultanas
- Boiled and sliced, with butter or a dressing – read How to boil beets
- Boiled, sliced and topped with yoghurt
- Juiced with other vegetables.
- As a dip – try Beets and horseradish relish (the Polish ćwikła) (coming soon)
- Make beet chips in an air fryer
- Pickled – as you would cucumber
- As a healthy food colouring e.g. for baking, colouring pasta, staining eggs, radish or cabbage
The leaves are also delicious – select fresh leaves from unmarked bulbs, rather than those showing signs of dehydration.
- young leaves – add raw to salads
- adult leaves – cook as you would Swiss chard, kale or spinach (steam, or sauté on butter with salt and pepper). They can be added to soups, stews or casseroles.
TIP: Lemon juice will remove beet stains from your fingers.
How do you like your beets?