Are Beets a Vegetable?
Yes, they are, but did you also know that beets can be used to make red velvet cake and that beet greens are just as nutritious as the beet itself? Learn more interesting facts about this colorful veggie.
Beet or beetroot as they are commonly called outside the United States is a root vegetable that was domesticated around the 8th century BC. Beets originated in the Mediterranean region from the sea beet, which can still be found growing wild to this day. At that time, beets were mainly used for medicinal purposes until the 1800s when French chefs realized their potential as a side dish. Most beets are ruby red, but they also come in white, golden yellow, purple and striped.
Beets have played a big part in the culinary history of the US, not only as a tasty side dish but as a source of food coloring. Before food dyes became commonplace, beets were used to give foods like red velvet cake its redness. Today, because of the desire not to use artificial coloring, using beets as a food coloring has made a resurgence even in the commercial production of cereals, candy and confectionaries. (Try dying Easter eggs with beets!) Back in the day, beets were also used medicinally because it was thought they helped with illnesses of digestion and blood.
Beets are part of the Chenopodiaceae family, also known as the Goosefoot family. Other members of this botanical family include spinach, Swiss chard and quinoa. Plants within this group are typically rich in calcium.
All beets, no matter their color, prefer being in the full sun and they can tolerate salty and alkaline soils. Beet seeds do best when direct sowed into the garden because they do not transplant well. Sowing should be done when the soil temperature has reached 50 degrees. Prior to planting seeds, soak them in warm water for 24 hours to help with germination. Beets are considered a cool-season crop and can tolerate numerous frosts.
Don't Throw Away the Tops
Beet greens hold more nutritional value than the root itself. During the 8th century, beets were typically used for the leaves and not the root. Today, the root is typically used instead of the greens. Greens can be used in recipes that call for spinach, Swiss chard, kale or other similar leafy greens. Raw beet greens can be mixed with various types of lettuces for a healthy salad, but the center vein can be bitter so it is often removed. Beets greens can be cleaned and stored the same way it's done for chard, kale or lettuce. To cook beet greens, blanch them for one to two minutes then transfer them to a pan to saute with olive oil and salt and pepper.
The Red Runs Deep
It is important to know that the red color component, Betanin, cannot be broken down by the body. So after eating red beets or foods that use it as a coloring agent, urine and stool will be dyed red — this is commonly called beeturia. Do not be alarmed as this will work its way out of your body naturally within several days to a week at the most.