Beet (botanical name Beta vulgaris) belongs to the botanical family of Chenopodiaceae, which is presently embraced in Amaranthaceae family. Beet is well-known for its several cultivated assortments, most popular among them being the purple root vegetable which is called garden beet or beetroot. The other cultivars of beet comprise the spinach beet, leafy vegetables chard, in addition to root vegetables sugar beet. Sugar beet is vital in the production of mangelwurzel, a common fodder crop.
The beet is an herb-like biennial or, seldom, perennial plant having leafy stems which grow up to a height of 1 meter to 2 meters in height. The leaves of this plant are shaped like the heart and measure anything between 5 cm to 20 cm in length on plant growing naturally - the length of the cultivable varieties are usually much longer. The plant produces thick spikes which bear the small flowers - each flower measuring anything between 3 mm to 5 mm in diameter. The flowers of the beet have five petals which are either green or have a shade of red. The beet flowers are pollinated by the wind and the fruit of this plant is a group of solid nutlets or small nuts.
In effect, the beets are spherical, firm root vegetable having edible and leafy green tops. While the most common hue of the root is vivid red, the colors of the roots may range from profound red to yellow or even white. In addition, one variety of beetroot has bands of red and white with a common axis (concentric). After they are cooked, the beets have a tender, but crunchy surface and a sweet taste.
Beet has been cultivated since prevail times and its history of cultivation actually dates back to the second millennium B.C. It is believed that this plant was first domesticated somewhere in the Mediterranean region and from there it later stretched to Babylonia by the eighth century B.C. and eastwards in China by 850 A.D. Evidences available, especially those by the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Theophrastus, who succeeded Aristotle in the Greek Peripatetic School, indicate that the leafy forms of the beet were mainly cultivated for the major part of its attributes, but these lost most of its popularity following the introduction of spinach much later. During the 19th century, the beet was extremely important commercially in Europe after the development of the sugar beet in Germany and also following the discovery that it was possible to extract sucrose from the beet offering a substitute to sugarcane grown in the tropical climatic regions. Even to this day, the beet continues to be an extensively cultivated commercial crop for manufacturing table sugar.
The table or garden beet is the variety of this species which is generally cultivated for human consumption. The three major varieties of garden beet includes the Detroit dark red beet, Lutz salad leaf beet and the Chioggia beet, which is a favourite among the Italians. Another variety of beet that is grown for human consumption is the leaf or spinach beet. However, this variety of beet is not cultivated for the plant's roots, but for its leaves, which are more familiar as Swiss chard. Sugar beet, is the third type of beet which is cultivated not in the form of a vegetable, but for its high sugar content. In effect, sugar beet encloses two times more sugar compared to table beets and contributes approximately one third of the sugar supply of the world. In addition to extracting sugar from sugar beet, it is also used as an animal feed.
The contemporary beet varieties are obtained from the sea beet, an inedible plant that grows naturally along the length of the coasts of North America, Europe and Asia. Among all the different varieties of beet, the garden beet has been grown for several thousand years. According to myth, beets were valued so highly in ancient Greece that they were offered on a silver salver to Apollo at Delphi.
These days, beets are cultivated in several regions across the world. Although, the beet is a biennial plant of cool weather conditions, it is grown as an annual plant. Beets are cultivated from there seeds, which are sown during the onset of spring and can be harvested around 60 days to 80 days following their plantation. Beets are not susceptible to frosts, but when grown in hot weather conditions, it helps to make their roots tougher. Hence, it areas where they have hot summer beets are generally planted during the onset of fall or winter and harvested during spring. As a result of this, beets are available in the market throughout the year.
It may be noted that cooked beets form a wonderful natural resource of folate, while cooked beet greens contain high levels of vitamin A (beta-carotene) in addition to vitamin C. In addition, cooked beet greens are also a great natural source of magnesium and riboflavin.
While buying beets from any store always try to find unsullied, bright and firm textured beets that have a rich essence. Keep away from the beets that appear slouch or spongy in stability. Every time possible, buy beet that has been grown organically with a view to get the utmost health benefits. Generally, many stores sell beet roots with tops intact. In case you are purchasing the whole vegetable, cut the top greens from the root since they take away the moisture and nourishment from the roots.
Similar to any other greens, beet greens should also be washed meticulously prior to use. They ought to be cleaned in running water and subsequently soaked in salty water for approximately 30 minutes with a view to get rid of the soil, dirt and any insecticide that may cling to the vegetables as residues. While the top greens ought to be used as long as they are fresh, the beetroot may be stored for a number of weeks in the refrigerator set at an elevated relative humidity.
Beets are known to possess a number of health benefits. When purchasing beets that have leaves attached, you should opt for the beet having the youngest and youthful leaves. In any case, you need to keep away from beets that are dehydrated, cracked or withered. While the larger beets are likely to be firm, the smaller ones are usually more young and full of flavour. In effect, the leaves of the beet should be crunchy and ought to be washed well prior to using them. Always remember to store beets and the leaves separately in punctured plastic bags in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator.
You can also consume beets raw in salads after grating them. In addition, grated beet may also be boiled, baked, stewed, pickled or saut�ed. In order to sustain the color as well as the nutrients of the beets, it is best that you do not peel the beets prior to cooking. In fact, they ought to be scrubbed tenderly and a minimum of half an inch of the stem should be left on. The color of the beets may also be maintained healthier if an acid element, for instance vinegar or lemon juice, is added while cooking. You may also get canned beets, but go for fresh beets as they are crispier and tastier. It may be mentioned here that beets are often used to prepare the traditional Russian soup borscht - which is given a red color by adding the beet juice.
Basically, garden beet possesses very low calories and encloses just a small quantity of fat. The nutritional benefits of the beet are mainly attributed to its vitamins, fiber, minerals and exceptional antioxidants derived from plants. The root of the beet is considered to be a rich source of a phytochemical compound called glycine betaine. This phytochemical compound possesses the characteristics of reducing the levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream. In effect, homocysteine is among the extremely venomous metabolite that encourages the platelet colts, in addition to formation of atherosclerotic plaques, which may prove to be detrimental for the blood vessels. Elevated levels of homocysteine in the bloodstream lead to stroke, progression of coronary heart disease (CHD), as well as peripheral vascular ailments.
As mentioned earlier, uncooked beets are a wonderful natural resource of folates. Nevertheless, cooking the beets extensively may considerably lessen the folate levels in food. It may be noted that folates are essential for DNA synthesis within the cells. If women are given folates during the peri-conception (the period between pre-conception to early pregnancy) stage, they might help in averting neural tube flaws in the baby. In addition, beets enclose considerable amounts of vitamin C, a potent natural antioxidant that facilitates the body to forage harmful free radicals, which are one of the causes for developing cancers.
Beet greens or the tops of this vegetable are very good source of a number of nutrients, such as natural carotenoids, flavonoid antioxidants and vitamin A. In fact, compared to the roots, the beet greens contain these compounds several times more. Vitamin A is essential to sustain vigorous mucus membranes and healthy skin, in addition to being vital for vision. Ingestion of natural vegetables that have a rich content of flavonoids aids in protecting the lungs as well as the oral cavity from developing cancers.
The beetroot too possesses rich amounts of niacin (also known as vitamin B3), carotenoids, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), in addition to a number of essential minerals, including iron, magnesium and manganese.
Apart from the above mentioned natural compounds, vitamins and minerals, the root of the beet also encloses high levels of potassium. Precisely speaking, 100 grams of fresh beet root possesses 325 mg of potassium or about seven per cent of our body's daily requirement of the mineral. It may be noted that potassium helps to bring down the heart rate and, at the same time, regulates metabolism within the cells by neutralizing the harmful consequences of sodium.