About Beets

January 9, 2012

About Beets

Regardless of your politics, you don’t have to do as your president does in all things. Apparently, Barack Obama doesn’t like beets. Say what?! What’s not to like about beets? This little root vegetable has so many varieties and uses: mangelwurzel for fodder, the sugar beet for sugar, chard for leafy greens, and beetroots or garden beets for the root vegetable.

Sometimes called “blood turnips,” beets trace their history to the second millennium BC, and have been popular from the Mediterranean to China.  While we tend to think of beets primarily for their roots, beet leaves were widely popular until the cultivation of spinach. In 19th century Europe, beets became commercially significant once it was discovered that they offered an alternative to sugar cane. Today beets are cultivated commercially for table sugar.

At the CSA, we generally Bull’s Blood beets, known for their tender, sweet burgundy-colored leaves, and Chioggia beets with their recognizable red-and-white striped roots. Chioggias tend to be sweeter than other beets.

Beet leaves can be steamed or stir-fried. Roots can be boiled or roasted, or eaten raw, usually sliced or shredded. Beets can also be pickled. Save the pickling juice and use it to dye hard-boiled eggs, which is a tradition of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Beets can also be juiced in a home or commercial juicer, and drinking beet juice is said to make you perform better in sports, due to the abundance of nitrates.

It might make you perform better elsewhere, too: the Ancient Romans believed beetroot juice to be an aphrodisiac. The Romans also treated fevers and constipation with beets. During the Middle Ages, people ate beets to help with digestion and to enhance the health of the blood.

Beets are a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, and folic acid. The pigment betacyanin, which makes beets red, is an antioxidant. All that goodness in one remarkable vegetable? Makes you want to eat them all year. But maybe you shouldn’t eat them all the time: beets are high in oxalic acid, which is said to contribute to the formation of kidney stones.

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