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It's all about Beets. Golden and Red Beets, their History, Varieties, & Cooking Tips

All About Beets: History, Varieties, & Cooking Tips

by Top of the Hill Staff on February 26, 2024
Whether you’re a seasoned beet aficionado or a curious newcomer intrigued by the vibrant hues of red beets and golden beets, you’ve stumbled upon the right spot. Here at Top of the Hill Quality Produce and Meats, we cherish the earthy sweetness of beets and are thrilled to share everything there is to know about this versatile root vegetable. From its rich history to the best cooking tips, this guide will walk you through the wonderful world of beets, ensuring you're well-equipped to select, prepare, and savor them in all their glory. But before we continue, we thought you'd enjoy watching our video and getting a more comical take on the history of beets:

What are Beets? 

Beets, also universally known as beetroot in certain locales, stand out in the vegetable kingdom for their robust, bulbous roots which nestle beneath the soil, while their verdant, leafy tops reach towards the sun. These tops, much like the roots, are not only edible but packed with nutrients, offering a one-two punch of health benefits. The vegetable itself is most commonly recognized by its vibrant, deep red coloration, though it's just one shade in a palette that includes the less common but equally intriguing golden variety. Cultivated for both their roots and greens, beets boast a long-standing reputation for their distinctive sweet taste, a characteristic that becomes even more pronounced upon cooking. This sweetness, coupled with a hearty texture, makes beets a favored ingredient in a plethora of culinary dishes around the globe.

History of Beets

The beet's storied past is as colorful as the vegetable itself, originating from the wild sea beet, a native of coastlines along the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, and the coasts of Europe and North Africa. These ancestral plants were first cultivated for their leaves, with the bulbous roots we're familiar with today not being a primary focus until much later. Ancient texts and excavations reveal that by the 8th century B.C., beets had found their way into the gardens and diets of Babylonians, and they were well-regarded by the Greeks and Romans for their medicinal properties, especially for aiding digestion and blood health.

The Middle Ages saw beets traversing Europe, becoming a staple in the diets of many due to their adaptability to different climates and soils. It was during this era that beets began to be recognized for more than just their leaves; their roots were becoming increasingly appreciated for their flavor and nutritional benefits. The Renaissance period furthered this trend, with beets gaining popularity across the continent.

A significant milestone in the history of beets came in the 18th century with the identification and cultivation of the sugar beet. A chemist in Berlin discovered a method to extract sugar from the roots, leading to the beet's newfound role as a major sugar source, particularly significant during times when cane sugar was scarce or expensive. This discovery not only changed the global economy but also marked the beet as a versatile crop that could serve multiple purposes, from nourishment to sweetening.Through centuries of cultivation and discovery, beets have woven themselves into the fabric of culinary and agricultural history, showcasing their resilience and adaptability.

What's the Difference Between Red and Golden Beets? 

The primary distinction between red and golden beets lies in their taste and color impact on culinary creations. Red beets, recognized for their intense, earthy flavor, imbue dishes with a deep, rich magenta color, making them ideal for adding a vibrant splash to meals. This bold flavor and color profile is often celebrated in dishes where the beet is the star, such as borscht or roasted beet salads. In contrast, golden beets present a milder, somewhat sweeter taste, which can be preferable for those who find the robustness of red beets overpowering. Their bright, appealing hue offers a visual allure without the same tendency to color everything in the dish, a quality that makes golden beets a top choice for lighter salads, garnishes, and dishes where preserving the appearance of other ingredients is crucial.

Texture-wise, both varieties offer a satisfyingly dense and hearty bite, but the golden beet’s flesh is slightly less fibrous, providing a smoother experience when consumed. This subtle textural difference can influence the choice of variety based on the desired mouthfeel of the final dish.

When considering their use in the kitchen, it's also worth noting that golden beets tend to stain less, making them a more user-friendly option for those wary of red beets' notorious ability to tint cutting boards, hands, and other foods. Whether opting for the striking hue of red beets or the gentle, inviting color of golden beets, each variety brings its own unique set of characteristics to the table, offering culinary enthusiasts the opportunity to experiment with their distinct flavors and aesthetic qualities in a range of recipes.

Are Beets Healthy?

These vibrant root vegetables are packed with an array of vitamins and minerals that are essential for overall health. For instance, beets are a good source of folate, a B vitamin crucial for normal tissue growth and cell function, as well as manganese, which plays a role in bone formation and the metabolism of amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.

What makes beets particularly beneficial is their high content of inorganic nitrates, compounds known to have several health benefits, including reducing blood pressure by improving vasodilation. This can enhance cardiovascular health and decrease the risk of heart disease. Additionally, the nitrates in beets are beneficial for athletes and those leading an active lifestyle, as they can improve oxygen use and increase endurance.

Beets are also rich in betalains, potent antioxidants that give red beets their vibrant color. These compounds have been studied for their ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, potentially lowering the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain cancers. The fiber in beets adds another layer of health benefits, promoting digestive health and aiding in maintaining a healthy weight by providing a feeling of fullness.

With their unique combination of essential nutrients, antioxidants, and bioactive compounds, beets stand out as not only a flavorful but also a profoundly healthful choice for individuals looking to enrich their diet with foods that support long-term health and wellness.

Are They Easy to Cook?

Beets are surprisingly simple to transform into delicious dishes. The journey from raw to ready-to-eat is less complicated than one might think, opening up a world of culinary possibilities.

Roasting is a popular method that brings out the natural sugars in beets, enhancing their innate sweetness. This technique involves wrapping the beets in foil and baking them until tender—a process that requires minimal hands-on time. For those looking for quicker options, boiling or steaming beets can significantly reduce their cooking time, making them a practical choice for weeknight meals. Another enjoyable aspect of beets is their versatility. They can be enjoyed raw, grated into salads for a crisp, refreshing texture that's different from their cooked counterparts.

The ease of cooking beets extends to their preparation. While the task of peeling might deter some, it's a step that becomes effortless with practice. The skin slides off more smoothly once they are cooked, revealing the vibrant flesh beneath. Plus, cooking beets whole minimizes nutrient loss and color bleeding, especially important for maintaining the distinct hues of red and golden beets.

Experimentation is key when it comes to mastering beet dishes. Whether opting to puree them for a velvety soup, slice them for a rustic tart, or cube them for a hearty salad, each method showcases the adaptability of beets in the culinary world. Their ease of cooking, coupled with the depth they bring to dishes, makes beets a rewarding ingredient for both novice cooks and seasoned chefs alike.

How do you Select and Prepare the 2 Different Kinds of Beets? 

When choosing beets, whether they're red or golden, aim for ones that feel firm to the touch, with taut, glossy skins and bright, fresh-looking greens if still attached. The size of the beet can influence its taste and texture, with smaller ones typically offering a more tender bite and a sweeter flavor profile. Before cooking, give them a good wash to remove any dirt, then trim off the beet greens (which can be saved for another dish) and the root ends. Peeling beets is a matter of preference and can be done before or after cooking, although cooking them with their skins on tends to preserve their vibrant colors and nutrients more effectively.

Both Types of Beets are Available at Top of the Hill

Now that you are aimed with knowledge from our blog, you are ready to select your own beets and try them at home! Top of the Hill Quality Produce in Renton, Washington has both varieties of beets for you. They are available for online ordering, as well as for in-store purchasing. Stop by and share your favorite ways to enjoy these colorful culinary gems, or drop us your ideas in the comments below. 

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