Ingredient of the Month: Beetroot

Name Beetroot (beet in the United States)
Alternative names Beta vulgaris
Grows in Grows well in northern Europe, but the biggest commercial producers are the United States, Russia, France, Poland and Germany
The UK imports from Local: Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. International: Spain.
Short history Assyrian texts make reference to beetroot growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in 800 BC. More concrete evidence comes from the Ancient Greeks, who are known to have cultivated beetroot around 300 BC, though they only ate the leaves. The Talmud, the source of Jewish law, advises that eating beetroot will make one live longer. The Romans also appreciated the medicinal properties of beetroot, using it as a laxative and a cure for fevers. The root of the plant was first cultivated for consumption in Germany or Italy, with the first records dating to 1542. Several centuries later, beetroot was embraced as a dietary stable in North-Eastern Europe, largely due to its ability to grow well in winter.
Fun facts
  • Beetroot juice has been used as a red hair dye since the 16th century and was especially popular with women in Victorian England
  • Beetroot has been considered an aphrodisiac since ancient Roman times, with Venus attributing her romantic powers to it (scientists have since confirmed this: beetroot absorbs high amounts of boron, which is used in creating sex hormones)
  • Eating beetroot helps to get rid of garlic breath and reduces the symptoms of hangovers
Top health benefits
  • High levels of betacyanin help to lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke
  • High levels of folic acid and nitrate boost brain health,  helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and slowing the progression of dementia
  • Digestion and intestinal tract health are improved due to a high presence of the amino acid, glutamine

Beetroot comes in all shapes, sizes and colours, including vibrant yellows and oranges. The vegetable belongs to the same family as chard and spinach, which explains why the leaves of the beetroot can be eaten. The only downside of beetroot, perhaps, is that the colour stains. If your hands get messy, a splash of lemon juice can help to get rid of the staining.

Perhaps surprisingly, a type of beetroot is used to produce sugar. Up to ten percent of beetroot is sugar, which is the highest sugar content of any vegetable. When consuming the vegetable directly, beet sugar is released slowly through the body, which makes it healthier than refined sugar. Approximately 83 percent of sugar that is produced globally comes from sugar cane, while the rest is produced from sugar beet. As the sugar that results from the refining process is chemically identical for both sources, many producers do not identify the plant source on their packaging. Though you may be consuming beetroot in sugar form without knowing it, spoonfuls of beet sugar do not count towards your five a day.

Beetroot is versatile: it can be eaten raw if fresh, roasted with olive oil and herb of choice, blended into a soup or smoothie and pickled, if that’s your style. Many central and eastern European dishes, including borscht soup and vinegret salad, are based on beetroot. The recipes below provide a good starting point for experimentation if you feel inspired by beetroot’s close-to-magic properties.

  1. Beetroot hummus

Making hummus is easy, as long as you have a blender. Adding beetroot to the mix provides a special twist on a traditional recipe, which is centred on chickpeas, tahini and olive oil. The cumin, garlic and lemon juice balance the sweetness of the beetroot. If you still need a reason to give this recipe a try, how about the fabulous colour of beetroot hummus?

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  1. Beetroot risotto

Risotto is another dish that showcases beetroot’s impressive colour. Some of the roasted beetroot is blended into a sauce, while some is kept as chunks. The approach provides an interesting textural variety, making this particular recipe stand out. The parmesan and sour cream thicken the risotto, complementing the rich beetroot flavour.

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  1. Beetroot, rocket, walnut and feta salad

This salad comes together quickly and is bursting with flavours. The earthy crunch of beetroot is complemented by the sharpness of rocket salad. Sprinkles of feta and walnuts further liven up the salad. The simple dressing, which combines honey, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, binds the ingredients together naturally; you can’t go too wrong with any combination of walnuts, feta, honey and olive oil.

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2 thoughts on “Ingredient of the Month: Beetroot

  1. Jackie says:

    Hi Sonya
    I really enjoyed reading your article on beetroot and intend to try the beetroot risotto as I’m very impressed by the benefits of eating beetroot. I’m also doing a topic on growing our own fruit and veg with my class of 5-7yr olds , so will share some of your information with them ! Thank you !🤗

    Like

  2. Katrina Likhtman says:

    Wonderful!! Lovely to read so much about the history of beetroot! We shall definitely do beetroot humus! Sounds yummy. Funny about getting rid off garlic taste. One of my favourites is a very Russian grated beetroot with garlic and mayonnaise. And if you add walnuts and prunes that’s even better with all all health benefits enhanced!! Ukrainian borsch of course cannot survive without beetroot. :):)

    Like

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