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Beets 101 – The Basics

The following is a comprehensive article all about beets. If you need to know a little something about beets, you should find the answer here, from what they are and their health benefits, to how to select, store and prepare them, to tips for using them, to what goes with them, to suggested recipe ideas, and more! Read on…


Beets 101 – The Basics

About Beets
Beets are root vegetables with a deep, colorful round or oblong root, with long, stems growing upward with bright green leaves at the top. All parts of the plant are edible. Beets are in the same plant family as Swiss chard and their leaves resemble Swiss chard in both taste and texture. The beets we typically find in grocery stores are a rich, reddish-purple color, but they can also be found with white, golden/yellow, and even rainbow color roots.

Beet roots appear to be hardy since they can be hard to cut, but they bruise and puncture easily. This causes their colorful pigments (which are healthful phytonutrients) to leach out when cooked. So, it is helpful to treat beet roots as a delicate food, even though they appear to be hardy.

Beets have a high sugar content which makes them an important source for sugar in the sweetener industry. However, the beets used for sugar consumption are a different variety then what we typically purchase in the store.

Beets roots may be eaten cooked or raw. Raw beet roots have a crunchy texture that becomes soft and buttery when they are cooked. Beet roots are more often eaten cooked than raw. They are the main ingredient in the eastern European soup, borscht. In many areas, beets are available year-round, but they are in season from June through October.

Beet greens have an earthy, somewhat bitter flavor, like that of Swiss chard. Beet greens are delicious and can be eaten raw or prepared like Swiss chard, spinach, or any other delicate leafy green vegetable. They are rich in nutrients including many vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids.

Nutrition and Health Benefits of Beets
Beet roots are rich in folate, manganese, potassium, copper, fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, Vitamin C, iron, and Vitamin B6. One cup of cooked, sliced beets has 75 calories.

One cup of cooked beet greens is high in Vitamins K, A, C, E, B1, B2, B6, folate and pantothenic acid. They are also rich in potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. One cup of cooked beet greens has only 39 calories. That’s a big nutritional boost for so few calories. So, don’t toss the greens!

Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory, and Detoxification Effects. Beet roots are rich in colorful pigments and other compounds (betaine, betalains, nitrates, and others) that offer many health benefits. Researchers have found that betaine is used in many cellular functions and protects cells against oxidative stress which can damage cells. Betalains, which give beets their rich color, have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification effects. The nitrates in beets help to relax and expand blood vessels, increasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure.

Possible Anti-Cancer Effects. Preliminary lab studies with human cells have shown that the compounds in beets may have anti-cancer benefits, helping to protect us from colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate, and testicular cancers. Large-scale human studies still need to be conducted, but future research may verify that beets may be protective against cancer.

Glycemic Load. Beets are known to have a high sugar content, and some people avoid eating them for this reason. Even though beets have more sugar than other root vegetables, their effect on blood sugar is countered by their high fiber, which slows the sugar’s absorption into the bloodstream. Because of the fiber content, when included in a meal, beets are considered to have a low glycemic load, so they should not be of concern for most people.

Don’t Toss the Greens! Beet greens are also worth mentioning for their high nutritional value. Many people toss them away, but they are completely edible and very nutritious, so enjoy them as a side dish, added to stir-fry vegetables or toss them in a salad or soup! Beet greens are rich in many nutrients, as stated earlier. One cup of beet greens provides about 2400 International Units of beta-carotene (a Vitamin A precursor) that is linked to eye and skin health, and a reduced risk of breast cancer.

Possible concerns…

Beeturia. Beeturia is an uncommon condition where urine turns a reddish color after the consumption of beet roots. This is not a harmful condition and should not be of concern. About 5 to 15% of American adults experience this condition. People with problems metabolizing iron are more prone to this condition. If you experience beeturia and suspect you are deficient in iron, or have an iron overload or problems utilizing iron, consult your doctor regarding your condition.

It is also possible for stool to be reddish after beet consumption. This condition is more common in children than adults. It is not harmful.

Oxalates. Beets are known to be high in oxalates, naturally occurring acids found in many foods. Oxalates play a supportive role in the metabolism of many foods, but some people experience problems when ingesting a lot of them. When combined with a high level of calcium in the body, oxalates may promote the formation of kidney stones in some people. If you have problems utilizing oxalates, it may be wise to limit the amount of beets you include in your diet.

How to Select Fresh Beets
Look for fresh beets that are small to medium in size, are firm and smooth-skinned, and have a deep color. Smaller beet roots will be more tender than larger ones. Avoid beet roots that are soft, with bruises or spots, or have wet areas. Such problems indicate spoilage. Older beet roots may be shriveled and will be tough and fibrous. Beets larger than 3 inches in diameter will be touch and fibrous.

If you plan to eat the beet greens (which are delicious in themselves), look for those that appear fresh, tender, and have a bright green color.

How to Store Beets
If your fresh beets still have leaves/stems attached, cut the leaves with most of the stems away from the root. Leaving about 2 inches of stems still attached helps to keep the beet roots from bleeding during cooking. Also, do not cut roots attached to the beet itself. Store your beet roots, unwashed, wrapped in a dry cloth or paper towel, placed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They should keep for about 10 days, up to 3 weeks.

Store unwashed beet greens wrapped in a dry cloth or paper towel, placed in a plastic bag, and stored in the refrigerator. Use them within four days.

How to Prepare Beets
Beet Roots. Wash your beet roots by gently rinsing them under running water. Wearing kitchen gloves can help to keep your hands from getting stained. Trim the stems from the bulb, leaving about 2 inches of the stems attached. Do not trim roots away from the bulb.

Beets may be eaten raw, shredded for salads. They can also be enjoyed cooked by boiling, steaming, stir-steaming, or roasting them. They can be peeled before or after being cooked. Leaving the peel on and roots attached while being cooked can help to keep their colorful pigments from leaching into the cooking liquid. After being cooked, the peels should easily slip off. An easy way to prepare them for steaming is to cut the beet root into quarters, leaving 2 inches of tap root and one or two inches of stems attached. The skin can be removed after the pieces are cooked.

It is important to note that the colorful, healthy pigments that give beets their rich color, are water-soluble and leach out during the cooking process. To help preserve these important compounds, it is recommended that beets be cooked for the least amount of time possible, and with one or two inches of stems still attached, along with the roots.

Beet Greens: Prepare beet greens as you would any other tender leafy green, such as Swiss chard. Simply wash the greens and cut or tear them as desired. They can be eaten raw, sautéed in a small amount of olive oil and garlic, or stir-steamed in a little vegetable broth or water. Season with salt and pepper and some red pepper flakes, if desired. Finish them with a splash of white wine, lemon juice, or vinegar. The added acidic ingredient at the end will brighten the flavor and make them even more inviting.

How to Freeze Beets
Choose fresh, tender beets that are small to medium size. Buying them all about the same size will allow them to cook within the same time frame. Cut off the leaves and stems, leaving about an inch or two attached to the beet. Leave the roots attached. Leaving some of the stems attached and the roots intact helps to keep the beets from bleeding during the cooking process.

Wash your beets well to remove any dirt or debris. Do not peel them yet. Fill a pot with water and add the beets. Bring everything to a boil, and cook anywhere from 25 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. They are done when they are fork tender. When they are cooked, transfer them to a bowl of ice water and allow them to cool completely. Then remove the tops, roots, and skins, which should practically slip off with your fingers. Cut the beets into desired size pieces. Lay them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in a single layer. Place them in the freezer until completely frozen. Transfer your frozen beets to a freezer bag or container and remove as much air as possible. Beets have a high water content, so they will keep best in an air-tight container with as little air as possible. Label the container and return them to the freezer. Beets will keep well for about one year. They will be edible beyond that, but their quality may decline thereafter.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Beets
* If your hands get stained when preparing beets, rub them with some lemon juice and the stains should come off.

* If your countertop or floor get stained with beet juice, clean them with some well-diluted bleach and the stain should come off.

* When buying fresh beets, be sure to remove the stems and leaves from the beet roots before storing them, leaving about one to two inches of stems still attached to the bulb. Leaving the leaves attached will cause the roots to go bad faster. Also, leave the roots attached to the bulb, which will help to preserve the color during the cooking process.

* Raw beet roots can be grated and sprinkled on salads for a flavor, crunch, and color boost.

* Beet greens can be stir-steamed quickly in a small amount of vegetable broth or water. This makes a very fast, easy, delicious, and nutritious side dish to go with just about any meal.

* In case you’re wondering, the beets we buy in the store have not been genetically modified. However, beets used for sugar production have been modified. So, if you’re avoiding genetically modified foods, you should be aware of this.

* One way to roast beets while keeping them tender is to wrap them in foil before roasting. That will allow the sugars to caramelize while the foil locks in the moisture, keeping them moist and tender. Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the stems from the bulb, leaving one to two inches of stems still attached. Cut roots back, leaving an inch or two still attached to the bulb. Scrub the beet well to remove any dirt or debris. Place your prepared beets on a large sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle them with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper, or as desired. Fold the foil and crimp the edges, wrapping them together in a foil packet. Bake them for 40 to 60 minutes, until tender. Test by poking them with a knife through the foil packet. When tender, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool in the foil packet. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skins.

* Another way to roast beets is to leave the roots attached and cut the stems off, leaving about 2 inches still attached to the beet root. Wash the beets to remove any dirt or debris. Place them in a casserole dish that has a lid. Add a little water to the dish with your prepared beets. Cover the dish and roast them at 425°F for 40 to 45 minutes, or until tender. Allow them to cool, then cut off the roots and stems, and slip off the skins. Serve as a side dish, season them with a vinaigrette dressing, or add them to soup.

* Try dressing diced roasted beets with a little lemon juice and yogurt.

* Top cubed, roasted beets with a mustard vinaigrette dressing and serve with your favorite green salad.

Herbs/Spices That Go Well with Beets
Allspice, anise, basil, bay leaf, capers, caraway seeds, cardamom, chervil, chili pepper flakes, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry powder, dill, fennel seeds, ginger, lemongrass, mace, marjoram, mint, mustard powder, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, poppy seeds, sage, salt, savory, star anise, tarragon, thyme

Foods That Go Well with Beets
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Beans, beef, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, duck, edamame, eggs (esp. hard boiled), fish, lentils, nuts (esp. hazelnuts, macadamia, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts), poppy seeds, pork, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, tofu

Vegetables: Arugula, asparagus, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celery root, Swiss chard, chili peppers, chives, cucumbers, endive, fennel, garlic, greens, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, sea vegetables, shallots, spinach, tomatoes, turnips, other root vegetables, wakame (seaweed), watercress

Fruits: Apples, apple juice, avocado, blackberries, citrus fruits and juice, cranberries, dried fruit, grapefruit, kumquats, lemon, lime, mangoes, olives, orange, pears, pomegranate, raisins, watermelon

Grains and Grain Products: Breads (dark and rye), couscous, grains (in general), pasta, quinoa

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, buttermilk, cheese (esp. blue, feta, goat, Parmesan, ricotta), cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone, milk, sour cream, yogurt

Other Foods: Agave nectar, chocolate, cocoa, honey, horseradish, lavender, maple syrup, mayonnaise, oil, soy sauce, stock (vegetable), sugar (esp. brown), vinaigrette, vinegar (esp. balsamic, cider, red wine, sherry, white balsamic, white wine), wasabi, wine (dry red)

Beets have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e. cakes), chips, chutneys, crudités, desserts, falafel, hash (i.e. red flannel), juices (i.e. beets, carrots, celery), relishes, risottos, Russian cuisine, salads, soups, stews, tartares, veggie burgers

Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Including Beets
Add beets to any of the following combinations…

Arugula + feta cheese + balsamic vinegar + walnuts
Avocado + orange
Balsamic vinegar + blackberries
Balsamic vinegar + carrots + chives + greens
Balsamic vinegar + chives + parsley + red onions
Balsamic vinegar + fennel + oranges
Beet greens + dill + lemon + yogurt
Cheese + fruit + greens + nuts
Crème fraiche + dill + orange
Fennel + ginger + yogurt
Fennel + orange + watercress + yogurt
Garlic + olive oil + parsley
Ginger + mint + orange
Horseradish + pistachios + ricotta
Orange juice/zest + wine vinegar + walnut oil + walnuts
Pistachios + watercress + yogurt

Recipe Links

Best Beet Recipes https://www.thespruceeats.com/variety-of-beet-recipes-3061445

Easy and Delicious Roast Beetroot https://www.thespruceeats.com/go-to-easy-roast-beetroot-recipe-435699

How to Freeze Blanched or Roasted Beets https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-freeze-beets-3051456

Balsamic Roasted Beets https://joyfoodsunshine.com/roasted-beets/

Twenty of our Best Beet Recipes https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/our-best-beet-recipes/

34 Beet Recipes for Roasting, Frying and More https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/roast-em-fry-em-grate-em-38-ways-cook-eat-beets

10 Favorite Beet Recipes https://www.acouplecooks.com/beet-recipes/

How to Cook Beets (4 Easy Methods) https://www.jessicagavin.com/how-to-cook-beets/

16 of the Best Every Beet Recipes https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/popular-ingredients/beet-recipes

Tasty Roasted Beets https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/218185/tasty-roasted-beets/

30 Delicious Beet Recipes https://theinspiredhome.com/articles/your-heart-will-beet-for-these-delicious-recipes?gclid=CjwKCAjwmrn5BRB2EiwAZgL9okVTYz_52IW3bRrbYWWtKI8t3UpOPftrMPRBq09GgPvYYRdpad9RjRoCo0IQAvD_BwE












Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.


About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.