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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seasonal Vegetable Profile: Beets

Varieties: The candy-striped Chioggia variety (pictured here) originates from the eponymous Italian town and was likely brought to the United States in the 1800s by Italian immigrants. Beets have a high content of geosmin, which gives them their earthy taste.

Harvest: Beets will become woody and tough in warm weather, so harvest spring-planted beets before temperatures start to rise. Depending upon the variety, harvest beets when they are between 1 and 4 inches in diameter

Nutrition: Beets owe their bright red color to betacyanin, which also acts as a potent cancer fighter. Beet greens are loaded with folate for heart health along with carotenes known to protect eyesight. Raw or steamed beet greens are high in Vitamin A, calcium and phosphorus.

In history: The beet that we know today is a form of the beet chosen for its edible roots centuries ago. The vegetable was essential to both ancient Greek and Roman civilizations; in Greek times beet roots were long and sweet—so sweet that in 300 BCE the philosopher Theophrastus reported them sweet enough to eat raw. Today, standard red table beets are about 3% sugar, whereas sugar beets, the variety selected for sugar production, contain up to 20% sucrose.

Sources:
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner: New York, 2004.
Health content provided by Liz Applegate, Director of Sports Nutrition, UC Davis, www.lizapplegate.com
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