Southern Canada, Northern USA


Many people are averse to beets having only experienced crinkle-cut slices steeped in overpowering vinegar. This is a shame because fresh beet has much to commend it in terms of flavour (sweet, slightly earthy), texture (smooth and velvety) and color (dark red/purple, or an appealingly lurid pink when combined with cream or yoghurt).

These attributes make it a key ingredient in many fabulous salads (see PICK OF THE RECIPES). And if you haven't tried fresh beet juice you may be pleasantly surprised at how subtle it is, particularly when offset with a sharper ingredient such as orange or apple.


Beets evolved from wild seabeet which is a native of coastlines from India to Britain. Two thousand years ago, prior to being modified by cultivation techniques, beet had a carrot-shaped root and only the leaves were eaten (the small root was used for medicinal purposes by ancient Greeks and Romans). The familiar rounded root variety was developed around the sixteenth century and gained widespread popularity in Europe a couple of hundred years later.

Today beets are common throughout much of Europe, and is used extensively in Scandinavian, Eastern European and Russian cuisine.


The beet plant, Beta vulgaris, has deep tap roots and can grow in a variety of soil conditions. Other members of the genus include chard, sugar beet, spinach and samphire. The red variety is dominant but golden and white beet is grown on a smaller scale.


Beets should be firm with a smooth, undamaged surface. Smaller roots are more tender - avoid any larger than about 6cm in diameter as they may have tough, woody cores.

If you want to use the leaves they should be crisp, fresh looking and not too long or thick (if you don't, it doesn't matter too much if they're a bit limp as they deteriorate much more quickly than the root).

Cut off the leaves and store in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge. The leaves should be used within a day or two but the root will keep for a couple of weeks.

Tender baby roots can be grated raw in salads. Mature beets can be boiled or wrapped in foil and baked.

To preserve the beet's color and nutrients, rinse and brush clean but do not remove the skin or root until after cooking. Cook until a skewer easily penetrates to the core (anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours boiling or 1½ to 2½ hours baking at 180°C). You may want to wear rubber gloves when cutting and handling beet as the pigmentation leaves a pretty stubborn stain.

The leaves can be cooked like spinach - steam uncovered in a pan with a small amount of boiling water (around 1cm depth).


Extensive information on beet, and some other interesting stuff, can be found on this website