An Easy Guide to Beets and Why You’ll Want to Eat Them
Learn how to cook beets (or beetroot) and you'll reap a wealth of health benefits that may surprise you.
Photo: Dawn Damico/Shutterstock
Confession: For most of my life, I thought beets tasted like dirt and refused to eat them. Then, I tasted Golden Beet Curry Risotto with Crispy Beet Greens. Bells rang. Angels sang. And my love affair with beets began to take root. As with any new relationship, I wanted to know more about this mysterious vegetable I’d ignored for so long, so I did my due diligence. Once I discovered how to cook beets and their amazing health benefits, the rest was history.
Also known as beetroot, these bulbs with leafy tops are generally available year-round in the familiar red, yellow (golden) or striped varieties, but they’re tastiest from November to March. You can eat both the bulb and the greens. The flavor hovers between carrots and earthy wild mushrooms, with golden beets having a sweeter, more delicate flavor than red beets, and striped, or candy cane beets, having a milder taste. Beets are low in calories and have zero cholesterol, giving them major points on my list of desirable traits. You can also buy canned beets, but that’s a compromise I’m not willing to make this early in the relationship.
Need a spot-on beet recipe? We’ve got plenty right here.
Photo: Shutterstock/Alice Day
How to Purchase, Prep and Store Beets
Purchase beets that have crisp, fresh greens, firm bulbs and smooth skin (smaller bulbs are usually more tender). Remove all but two inches of greens (to avoid releasing juice from the bulb that can stain). Wash the bulb and greens separately. Store the bulbs in plastic wrap in the crisper drawer for up to 10 days. Store greens in plastic up to 2 days. Did you know beet greens have more iron than spinach? Another check mark in the win column. When working with beets, cover your work surface with plastic wrap to avoid stains.
Photo: Shutterstock/Sea Wave
How to Cook Beets
If you’ll be eating beets raw, you’ll want to peel off the hard outer skin with a vegetable peeler. Fresh, raw beets can be finely grated into salads for color or used as a garnish for soup. But beets are usually roasted, boiled or steamed and cut into thin slices, cubes or chunks as in this Winter Beet Salad recipe. In fact, beet salads are so trendy these days that it’s hard to find a restaurant menu without one.
Pro tip: Avoid staining your hands with beet juice by peeling beets under cold running water, or use rubber gloves. If your hands do get stained, try rubbing them with lemon juice to remove the stain.
There’s no need to peel beets if you’re going to cook them because the skin is easily removed once cooked. My preferred method is to roast beets, which concentrates their flavor and boosts their sweeter side. Wash and wrap them in aluminum foil and place them in a 400° oven for 40–60 minutes, or until fork tender. Allow the beets to cool, then place them in a paper towel in one hand and use a second paper towel to rub off the skin. (Or you can try this Roasted Beet Wedges recipe.)
Pro tip: To cook beets in a slow cooker, wrap each beet in foil and place in a single layer into the bowl (generally about 4 to 5 medium beets in a large slow cooker). Cover and cook on high heat until tender, about 4 to 6 hours. Peel the beets and chop to use in other dishes.
Beet juice is a popular drink among the healthy set, and is a colorful addition to smoothies. To squeeze the juice from a beet, finely grate it onto cheesecloth that’s been set over wax paper. Gather all the gratings up into the cheesecloth, twist it tightly and squeeze the juice into a measuring cup. The flavor will be intense, so blend it with other fruit and vegetable juices. (And don’t panic if your urine turns pink—it’s perfectly natural.)
Pro tip: Beet juice can be used as a natural dye to tint cake icing or to add color to sauces, jams, jello—or even ice cream.
My mother loves pickled beets, and while my passion doesn’t extend that far yet, I am willing to try Beet Salad with Lemon Dressing or Beet and Sweet Potato Fries. Want more in-depth info on how to cook beets? See this article.
Pro tip: Beets pair well with many spices, including anise, caraway seeds, fennel, ginger and savory.
Health Benefits of Beets
The list of beets’ health benefits is long and impressive, but here are some of the highlights. One red flag, however: If you have kidney or gallbladder problems, or are taking an anti-coagulant medication, discuss the effects of eating beets with your doctor first.
Boost Your Workout: Increase your energy and stamina during exercise by consuming three to five beets or beet juice about two to three hours before working out. Beets’ high nitrate content turns into nitrous oxide which improves oxygen uptake and relaxes blood vessels for better circulation, enhancing the body’s tolerance to and endurance for high-intensity exercise.
Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease: Beets contain betaine and folate which help lower the levels of homocysteine in the blood, reducing the risk for artery damage, heart disease and stroke. Betaine also helps reduce the accumulation of fat in the liver and helps fight inflammation.
Prevent Birth Defects: Pregnant moms may want to add beets to their diet. Beets’ high levels of folate help reduce the chance of birth defects and aid in spinal column development.
Ward off Cancer: The pigment that gives beets their beautiful color, betacyaninis, is also an antioxidant that may help protect against the growth of cancerous cells.
Protect Your Eyes: My father had macular degeneration, so I was happy to learn that beets are an excellent source of beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These work together to help prevent the retinal detachment common with macular degeneration as well as help prevent age-related blindness.
Try ’em, You’ll Like ’em!
Probably the most famous dish associated with beets is Russian Borscht Soup, which I actually tasted for the first time while in Russia. I was glad I had begun my affair with beets beforehand or I might have passed it up (the dollop of sour cream on top didn’t hurt, either). So am I going to be spending more time with beets in the future? You bet. And if you don’t know how to cook beets, or thought you didn’t like them, like me, this collection of our best beet recipes is for you.