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The Beauty of Beets

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The Beauty of Beets

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

Image: puck77/stock.xchng

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58 comments

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8:59PM PST on Mar 7, 2013

Have always enjoyed tasting the beauty of the beet!

1:50PM PDT on Mar 18, 2012

Thanks for the recipe, I'm going to try. I like all ingredients but salt. :-)

7:20AM PDT on Mar 16, 2012

Thanks for sharing. I have never had beets before but I am going try it.

11:27PM PDT on Oct 15, 2011

Thanks for posting.

6:44PM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

I also saved the blood red water left over and threw it in the freezer. I was going to use it as "red" to dye eggs this easter. :)

6:42PM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

I LOVE LOVE LOVE beets! I steamed up 3 big ones and ate plain with splash of lemon & feta. Sooo fantastic!

7:09AM PDT on Sep 26, 2011

My guy loves beets. I plant them just for him looking for new recipes to try. Thank you for the article and recipe.

5:24PM PDT on Sep 12, 2011

Used to get teased for liking/eating beets.....fine by me:) I usually juice them now, but will try this recipe. Thank you.

8:09AM PDT on Sep 8, 2011

Thanks for the recipe! *.*

4:45PM PDT on Sep 6, 2011

I love steamed beets!! In India we steam them then either season them with lime and salt or mix them in with yoghurt, so yummy!!

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