The beet dates to prehistoric times, when ancient civilizations along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea grew beets for their medicinal quality. According to Waverly Root, it is believed that the Romans didn’t consume the root of the beet until the beginning of the Christian era.
Beets are noted for their sweetness— they have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, but are low in calories. Varieties of beets include the spinach or leaf beet (swiss chard), the sugar beet, and the mangold (used as fodder). Napoleon encouraged the cultivation of beets due to a British monopoly over cane sugar from the British West Indies. More recently, the United States viewed sugar beets as a favorable strategic commodity, a source of sugar to sustain America during World War II and the US-Japanese struggle for control of the Pacific islands.
Beets are available year round and most commonly found in crimson red, however, they can range in color from deep red to white. At the market, choose beets with smooth and firm skin. Often times, small to medium beets are more tender than larger ones. If the beet greens are attached, they should be crisp and bright. These greens should be removed as soon as you get them home in order to hold in moisture, but leave about one inch of the stem attached to prevent color and nutrient loss. Store beets in refrigerator for up to three weeks before cooking. Wash the beets gently and peel them after they’ve been cooked.
Recipe Suggestion: Roasted Beet Farrotto