Ingredient of the Week: Beets

Taste that rainbow.
Taste that rainbow.

What is it?

The most common variety is the garden beet: deep red in color and bulbous in shape. It was first discovered in the Mediterranean some millennia ago. Beets are high in phytonutrients called betalains, which are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory in nature, and their nitrites can enhance athletic performance. Beets are also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which aid in macular and retinal health.

The beet root is crispy when raw and turns buttery when cooked, while the leaves are mildly bitter, like chard.

How do I use it?

The entire beet can be eaten from the leaves to the root. Leaves are usually steamed or stir-fried, while the roots can be prepared a number of ways. Cook them in borsch, the Eastern European beet soup; boil, steam, or roast them and serve tossed in butter, oil, or vinegar for a side dish; pickle and serve cold as a condiment; or slice and serve raw in a salad.

Unlike other vegetables, beets experience a significant decrease in betalains during the cooking process. To retain as much health benefits as possible, don't steam beets for longer than 15 minutes or roast for more than an hour. When washing, the beet juice can stain your hands; rubbing lemon wedges on your fingers will help remove the pigment.

Where can I find it?

In the produce section of most grocery stores. Beets are available from summer to winter. When selecting them, choose small-to-medium-size beets whose roots are firm, smooth-skinned, and even-colored. If you plan to also eat the leaves, choose ones that are bright-green and fresh, not wilted nor browned.

To store, cut the leaves about one to two inches from the root. Do not wash. Store in a plastic bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. Then refrigerate in your produce drawer for up to two weeks. Store the unwashed leaves in a separate bag, also squeezing out as much air as possible; these will last a few days in the fridge. If storing in the freezer, it is best to freeze cooked beets rather than raw.

Recipe: 15-Minute Beets This recipe is quick, tasty, and healthy. What more can you ask for?

What do you do with your beets?

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