Beet (Beta vulgaris)

Beet (Beta vulgaris) is a species of plant in the family Chenopodiaceae. It is best known for the purplish-red root vegetable known as the beetroot or garden beet. Other cultivars include the leaf vegetables Swiss Chard and Spinach Beet, the root vegetables Sugar Beet (for table sugar), and Mangel-wurzel (as fodder crop).

There are three recognized subspecies. All cultivated varieties come from subspecies Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris; Sea Beet, which is the wild ancestor and found throughout the Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Near East, and India comes from Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima; Beta vulgaris subsp. adanensis which occurs from Greece to Syria, is a second wild subspecies.

Beta vulgaris is a herbaceous biennial growing 1-2 m tall. It has leafy stems, and heart-shaped leaves, 5-20 cm long or longer. The wind-pollinated, green or tinged reddish, five-petaled flowers are small, 3-5 mm diameter, and are produced in dense spikes. Its fruit is a cluster of hard nutlets.

The midribs of Swiss Chard are eaten boiled, while the whole leaf blades are eaten as a spinach beet. The leaves and stems of young plants are steamed briefly and eaten as a vegetable. The older leaves and stems are stir-fried.

Garden beets are eaten boiled as a cooked vegetable, or as a salad after cooking and adding vinegar and oil. In commercial productiont, the beets are processed into boiled and sterilised beets or into beet pickle . Beetroot can be peeled, steamed, and eaten with butter as a warm delicacy; cooked, pickled, and then consume cold as a condiment; or peeled, shredded raw, and added into salad.

Beets are a unique source of phytoproteins called betalains. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are two betalains from peel and flesh of beets which provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. Betalains undergo very steady loss from food as the length of cooking time is increased. A 15 minutes steaming time or 60 minutes roasting time are recommended to prevent significant damage to the betalains.

The pigments that gives beets the rich purplish-red colors are betacyanins and betaxanthins. In light or dark red, crimson, or purple colored beets, betacyanins are the dominant pigments. In yellow beets, betaxanthins predominate, and particularly the betaxanthin called vulgaxanthin.

No matter what the color, beet isn't as hardy as it looks; the smallest bruise or puncture will cause red beet's red-purple pigments to bleed, especially during cooking. The betalain pigments in beets are water-soluble, but they are also temperature sensitive. It is important to treat beet as a delicate food.

Raw beet roots have a crunchy texture that turns soft and buttery when they are cooked. Beet leaves have a lively, bitter taste similar to chard. The consumption of beets cause beeturia or pink urine in some people.

Beet (Beta vulgaris)Beet (Beta vulgaris)
Author: Siebrand (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

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