A little bit about… Beetroot

Welcome to this month’s ‘Diary of a Veg-Nerd’!

Beetroot, ‘important’ things to know

They’re not all purple-red and they don’t just come pickled in a jar!

Nutritionally, beetroots aren’t that special for any one particular vitamin source. They have two main components; above ground leafy bits and below ground rooty round thing. The leaves are a great source of iron and B vitamins – as is the case with many green leafy things. The root is notably a good low calorie (100g=43 calories) fibre (100g = 11% of a ladies daily intake) packed food. But they also pack a fair whack of vitamins C, B6, magnesium and potassium.

Beetroot’s other uses include dye which has been used for thousands of years and potentially as a medicine for relief of hypertension- though this is yet to be clinically proven. More commonly now it’s used as a food dye or a ‘natural colouring’ in sweets. The dye is called ‘Betanin’ and it’s not able to be broken down by the body… (pink pee if you eat a large quantity -e.g. over a pound of them!

Growing and Harvesting

In terms of growing them, beetroot’s traditional harvest time is November and can often overwhelm you [source of solutions]. However, I tend to think of them being in the magical category of ‘will grow at any time of year’, just at varying rates. They’re a good overwintering crop for the winter if shown in September. You can continually crop the leaves for baby salad, but this tends to stunt their development below ground. Leaving them to grow usually produces some fat root under the ground after 3-5 warm months.

They’re classed as seasonal this time of year as they store well, as do many of the roots vegetables. Beta vulgaris as they’re scientifically known, are part of the ‘Amaranthaceae’ family that contains Amaranth and other beety things such as sugar beets- you’ll eat a lot of the latter as about ~50% of sugar is still beet derived. Due to their family they also fit into the magical crop rotational category of ‘grow them anywhere at anytime, really’.

Cooking and Eating

There’s been an increasing use and sale availability of the many varieties of beetroots – they’ve become popular with fancy chefs for pickling and slicing to pretty-up dishes. There are long thin ones, white, yellow, orange, pink, purple and crimson ones plus the very attractive ‘chioggia’ – a northern Italian variety with distinctive alternating pink, white rings.

They’ve also become popular for juicing, but to me this is a waste of all that beneficial cellulose based fibre. Personally, I like a fresh beetroot, boiled with a little vinegar (to help it keep), cooled, peeled, slice and served in a wholemeal roll with some hummus and alfalfa sprouts- but then I am having a bit of 70’s wholefood revival at the moment.

Most ‘interesting’ recipe goes to the Finns. In Finland, beetroot makes its way onto the Christmas table as ‘Rosolli’, a salad composed of boiled potatoes, carrots and beetroots, flavoured with gherkins, potentially herring, onions and tart apples- topped lovingly with pink whipped cream (dyed with the beet juice). Make of it what you will, at least it’s guaranteed to be brightly coloured in all that snow and darkness. A Finnish friend also tells me that as a child she had assumed it was a desert and that this is a mistake you don’t make twice!

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