This underrated root vegetable has much more to offer beyond its deep red-violet color. Beets are earthy and juicy with a wonderful sugary sweetness that reveals itself when cooked.
Though beets were first domesticated in the Middle East, they weren’t originally grown for their bulbous red root. Early civilizations harvested and ate the greens of the beet and only started to consume the beetroot around the 1500s.
Since then, beetroot has been cultivated all around the world, with its top consumers being Russia, France, and the United States. Additionally, because of their high sucrose content, beets account for about half of the sugar produced worldwide.
Beets have an earthy flavor with a slight bitterness when eaten raw. Their taste is often considered “muddy” so it is best to serve raw beets thinly sliced or grated to complement the other flavors in the dish without overpowering them.
Arguably the most popular way to serve beets is cooked, as this intensifies their natural sweetness. One of the best ways to bring out the natural sugars in beetroot is to roast it. Dry heat helps release the sugars in the vegetable and takes the depth of flavor a step further through caramelization.
Beets are often recognized as the star ingredient of Borscht, a hearty red-violet soup that’s considered the national dish of Ukraine.
Besides soups and stews, they are also a popular addition to salads (try our beet salad recipe with barley and blue cheese), both for their bright color and their earthy taste that pairs wonderfully with sweet, acidic, and fresh flavors. Roast or fry beetroot to enjoy its natural sweetness and serve on its own or add to savory dishes for a pop of color and flavor. Beets can also be used to add subtle earthiness to chocolate cake!
The variety of beetroot most people are familiar with, red or violet beets are sometimes called table beets due to their wide availability.
Ranging in color from reddish-orange to warm yellow, this variety of beetroot has many of the same qualities as the classic red version but is significantly milder in flavor.
Typically used for sugar production rather than cooking, sugar beets are white in color and have the most sucrose content out of all the beet varieties.