The bright red hue of canned or pickled beets is known to us all especially the betalain pigment that dyes our fingers a dark scarlet. But how many of us know what amazing health benefits beet have long been known for or just what a sweet and earthy flavor fresh beet has.
Beets are relatives to the bougainvillea and cactus and have been around for thousands of years deriving from sea beets. Around 800 BC, an Assyrian text describes beets growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient world. The Greeks and Romans used the leaves medicinally and as a culinary herb but the Romans discovered uses for the beet’s root. By 3AD Romans were growing beet as a food crop and they became popular right across the Roman Empire.
One cup of beets offers just 75 calories; freshly cooked or raw beets are high in folic acid, potassium, iron, calcium and antioxidants. Eating raw, cooked or juiced beet is recommended for numerous conditions. It can correct blood pressure, lowering it or elevating low pressure. Studies have shown that beets juice may inhibit cancer causing compounds. Beets are good for bowel problems including constipation and gastric ulcers. The liver, kidneys and gall bladder also appreciate a dose of beet magic.
In Australia, pickled beets are commonly served on hamburgers and across Eastern Europe Borscht is made. Borscht is a beet soup that has been an important winter staple in these chilly lands since the 14th century. Nowadays, recipes for the soup are tweaked, perhaps adding a crumbling of feta cheese to serve. A colorful, vegetarian beet risotto dish accompanied by a juicy seared salmon steak might be another option in using beet. Grated beet and carrot salad would make a lovely side dish to a succulent ham. In Thomas Keller’s famed ‘French Laundry Cookbook’ he writes of how his mother grated beet into a chocolate cake recipe to create a luscious deep red cake that he has recreated to partner his creamy red beet ice cream.
One thing to note however on eating a lot of beet is that some people are susceptible to beeturia. Beeturia is the passing of red colored urine after eating beets but there is no need to worry as it isn’t the sign of some dreaded disease, just carrying on eating those beets.
Photos courtesy of flickr - darinbell, gnuf, madcache, mulkins