By Jordan Laio, Hometalk
The stereotypical beet of today is a large, sweet, crimson bulb. There are in fact many varieties of beets which come in different colors, from golden to alternating white-and-pink, to white, and each variety has its own nuanced flavor and lends itself to different methods of cooking, including roasting and sauteing.
Beets, Beta vulgaris, are in the Chenopodiaceae or “Goosefoot family” and are closely related to chard. The ancestor of modern cultivated beet varieties is known as “sea beet,” which still grows wild throughout the Mediterranean. However, it doesn’t have much of a root bulb to speak of – it is harvested for its leaves.
According to William Woys Weaver in 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From, the beet was domesticated by 800 BCE but hadn’t yet fully developed some of the characteristics by which we know it today. By 100 CE there are records of round, red bulbous beets, but farmers were still developing it into our modern varieties. By the 16th century, fodder beets are recorded as existing in Europe. These are large and coarse beet roots used mainly as livestock feed. The bulbs can sometimes grow to 15 pounds.
The modern sugar beet was created in the 18th century in Europe as a reaction to Europeans’ addiction to sugar. The stage had been set by Andreas Marggraf discovering the ability to isolate sugar from beets in 1747. Another European, Moritz Baron von Koppy, had developed the white Silesian, the ancestor of all modern sugar beets, around 1800. When the English blocked the shipment of sugar into Europe during the Napoleonic wars in the beginning of the 19th century, the beet sugar industry, of necessity, was born. The sugar beet first made its way to the United States later in that century and is still enjoyed to this day.
Beets are hardy garden vegetables and will grow in all types of soil. Seeds germinate after 8-10 days. They are considered a cool weather crop but will bolt if exposed to temperatures below 40 to 50 degrees for too many days.
A look through any heirloom seed catalogue reveals the diversity in beets available. Some popular varieties are the flat Egyptian beet, Chioggia, and Bull’s Blood. Unfortunately, many people think they don’t like beets because their only experience has been with canned beets. Most people do not even know that beets also have edible (and quite tasty) leaves.
Next: Moroccan Beets Recipe