The beet is a fleshy root vegetable, used for food and the making of sugar. Beets are hard and crunchy when raw, but become soft and smooth when cooked.

Beets come in different varieties which range in color from white, yellow and multicolored to the more popular maroon colored ones. This fleshy root vegetable is high in dietary fiber, Vitamin C, manganese, copper and potassium making it a very nutritious food. Though beets are high in sugar and sweet to taste, they are also very low in calories.

Beets can be grated and used raw in salads, pickled, or cooked and used with other vegetables.


Other names: Sugar Beet, Beetroot, Beta Vulgaris
Translations: Biešu, Runkelių, Sfeclă, Repa, Củ cải tía, Burak, Biet, चुकंदर, Beterraba, Свекла, Τεύτλων, بنجر, 사탕 무우, Řepa, Bit, Aselga, 甜菜, Remolatxa, Sladkorne pese, Repa, Barbabietola, סלק, Betor, Репа, ビート, Betterave, Rübe, Bete, Remolacha, Буряк, Juurikas, Цвекло

Physical Description

Root: 1 ½" - 3" diameter. Leaves can spread about 12" and grow to about 8-12" high.

The color of red/purple beetroot is due to a variety of betalain pigments, unlike most other red plants, such as red cabbage, which contain anthocyanin pigments. The composition of different betalain pigments can vary, giving breeds of beetroot which are yellow or other colors in addition to the familiar deep red.

Beetroot comes in a variety of colors including blood red, purple, orange and pink. There are many cultivars on the market like the heirloom variety, ‘Bull’s Blood’, which is very dark red. Beets perform best when temperatures are cooler, so they are generally sown in late winter to early spring and harvested by late spring or early summer. Beet greens are also edible and can be eaten separately from the root.

Colors: Beetroot comes in a variety of colors including blood red, purple, orange and pink.

Tasting Notes

Flavors: sweet
Mouthfeel: Earthy, Rich
Food complements: Pear, Orange, Apple, Kohlrabi, Daikon, Lime, Walnuts
Wine complements: American riesling, French chablis, American gewurztraminer, Rose, Pinot blanc
Substitutes: Canned beats, Beefsteak tomatoes

Selecting and Buying

Seasonality: january, july, august, september, opctober, november, december
Choosing: Choose beets that are small and firm with deep maroon coloring, unblemished skin, and bright green leaves with no sign of wilting. The taproot should still be attached.

Avoid large beets which have a hairy taproot. All those tiny roots (hair) are an indication of age and toughness. Most beets that come to the market will be 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Any larger and they begin to grow a tough, woody center. Smaller beets will be sweeter and more tender.

Purchase fresh beets only if the leaf stems are still attached to insure ultimate freshness. Avoid beets with scales or spots.

Procuring: Beets are a fast growing crop that can be grown just about anywhere. Although beets are known as a root crop, all parts of the beet plant are edible. Tender beet greens can begin being harvested when thinning a row of beets. The most commonly known root beets are red, but golden and striped varieties have made growing beets more popular in recent years.

The plants we know as beets are in the same family as chard. While chard is grown for its leaves, beets were traditionally grown from their bulbous roots. However, all parts of the beet plant are edible. All types of beets and chard will cross-pollinate with one another.

Beets are not quite as cold tolerant as something like broccoli, but they can tolerate a light frost and they do like cool temperatures, so beets are generally grown in the spring or fall.

Beets are biennial. They will no flower until their roots have matured and they’ve had at least 1 month of cold temperatures.

You can start harvesting greens when they are a couple of inches tall. The greens are most tender before they reach 6". Beet roots are ready to harvest when they are approx. 1 ½ - 2" in diameter. Larger roots are tougher and more fibrous.

Harvest by tugging or digging. Leave at least 1" of the leaves on, to avoid bleeding during cooking.

Beets don't transplant well and are always planted from seed. The beet seed in packets is really clumps of 4-6 seeds. You can plant the whole clump and thin and use the greens when they get a few inches tall or you try and separate the clumps into individual seeds before planting. The safest way to do this is to gently run a rolling pin over the clumps. Be careful not to crush the seeds. Personally, I find it easier to simply thin the young greens.

Beet seeds can be slow to germinate, because of their tough outer shell. Soaking the seed clusters over night will help soften the shell and speed germination. You can always use the old trick of planting fast sprouting radishes in the same row as your beets. It helps mark the row and loosen the soil. By the time the beets start to develop, the radishes are ready to be pulled.

Another germination trick is to cover the seed in the garden with vermiculite, peat moss or some other non-crusting material. This will keep the seed moist and warm, but not inhibit it from breaking through the surface. This trick is very useful in gardens with less than ideal soil.

Beets grow with a portion of the root above ground, so seeds do not need to be planted deeply. 1/2" to 1" deep is sufficient, planting deeper as the temperature warms.

Beets are planted only about 2-3" apart. That's all the space the roots need and when the leaves start growing together, they provide a cooling mulch for the roots. You can plant in rows, wide rows or blocks. It's easiest to simply broadcast the seed and thin to the recommended spacing. All thinnings can be eaten.

Preparation and Use

Select beets that are similar in size. They should be smooth, round and a deep red color. If available, choose beets with fresh, dark green tops.

Prepare the cleaned beets gently to prevent tearing the thin skins: cook the beets before cutting or peeling. This will help retain the beet's color and flavor.

Cleaning: Thoroughly scrub the outside of the beet with a food brush to remove any dirt particles and small, ancillary roots.

Conserving and Storing

To store beets, trim the leaves 2 inches from the root as soon as you get them home. The leaves will sap the moisture from the beet root. Do not trim the tail. Store the leaves in a separate plastic bag and use within two days. The root bulbs should also be bagged and can be stored in the refrigerator crisper drawer 7 to 10 days.

Cooked or canned beets may be refrigerated up to one week.

Fresh cooked beets may also be frozen up to ten months. Be sure to peel before freezing in airtight containers or baggies, leaving no air in the container. They may be frozen whole or in cut pieces.


Beets are a source of folate, which may reduce your risk of heart disease. Beets also provide potassium, magnesium and fiber. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure, magnesium helps build and maintain strong bones, and fiber helps control cholesterol and keep you regular. Beet greens are a source of vitamin K, calcium and magnesium. These three minerals help build and maintain strong bones. Vitamin A is also found in beet greens and helps maintain eye health.

History: The sea beet, the ancestor of modern cultivated beets, prospered along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Beetroot remains have been excavated in the Third dynasty Saqqara pyramid at Thebes, Egypt, and four charred beetroots were found in the Neolithic site of Aartswoud in the Netherlands though it is difficult to determine whether these are domesticated or wild forms of B. vulgaris. Zohary and Hopf note that beetroot is "linguistically well identified." They state the earliest written mention of the beet comes from 8th century BC Mesopotamia. The Greek Peripatetic Theophrastus later describes the beet as similar to the radish, while Aristotle also mentions the plant. Roman and Jewish literary sources suggest that by the 1st century BC the domestic beet was represented in the Mediterranean basin primarily by leafy forms like chard and spinach beet. Zohary and Hopf also argue that it is very probable that beetroot cultivars were also grown at the time, and some Roman recipes support this Later English and German sources show that beetroots were commonly cultivated in Medieval Europe.


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