|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.|
|Top health benefits||
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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.