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Know Your Food: Beets
Know Your Food: Beets

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Know Your Food: Beets

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Vibrantly colored red or gold beetroots have been farmed everywhere from the ancient Mediterranean to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. In modern times, hybrid species of beets even feature red and white stripes like a candy-cane. All colors of beetroot have the same rich, earthy taste and liven up the plate with their rainbow hues.

Beet leaves and roots are packed with nutrition, including antioxidants that fight cell damage and reduce the risk of heart disease. They’re one of the few vegetables that contain betalains, a powerful antioxidant that gives beets their vibrant color. Betalains reduce inflammation and may help protect against cancer and other diseases.

Selecting Beets

When purchasing beets, remember that you should consume them within a day or two. You can store beets for a few weeks (see below), but they will rather quickly lose their freshness with every day you store them. The beets are going to be the freshest on the day you purchase them from the store or farmers’ market, so you might as well enjoy them at their best. 

There are two ways to buy fresh beets: in bunches with the greens still attached or in bulk with greens trimmed away. The ones with the greens attached are always preferable. Bunched beets with the greens still attached are the freshest, as the first sign of aging is that the greens will start to wilt. And if the greens are trimmed away, it’s harder to tell. 

Choose beets that are small and firm with a deep maroon color, unblemished skin and bright green leaves with no sign of wilting. The taproot (the thin, pointy tip of the root) should still be attached.

How to Store Beets

To store beets, trim the leaves 2 inches from the root as soon as you get home. The leaves will sap the moisture from the beetroot. Do not trim the taproot. Store the leaves in a separate plastic bag to consume within two days. The root bulbs should also be stored in bags in the refrigerator’s crisper for 7 to 10 days. Cooked beets may be refrigerated for up to one week.

Fresh cooked beets may also be frozen for up to 10 months, either whole or cut. Be sure to peel before freezing in airtight containers or bags, leaving no air in the container. Pickling beets is another popular method of preservation.

Using Fresh Beets

Beets are as versatile as they are delicious. You can roast or grill them and serve them as a side dish. They’re a perfect ingredient in salads and sandwiches. They also make delicious soups. You can pickle them, make chips or even make them into falafel. One particularly nifty way to prepare beets is by steaming them in an Instant Pot, which will crank out a batch of beets in around 20 minutes.

Freezing Beets

Fresh beets don’t freeze particularly well, as they tend to turn mushy when thawed. Cooked beets, on the other hand, freeze very well. Cooked beets, either whole ones or cut into chunks, can be frozen for 8 to 10 months, depending on how tightly they’re wrapped. Vacuum-sealed beets will last the longest in the freezer. 

How to Cook Beets

Although beets can be eaten raw, they are generally boiled, baked, steamed, fried, grilled, or otherwise cooked before eating. Beets must be first thoroughly washed to remove all of the dirt that comes with root vegetables. Cut off the taproot and leaves, save the greens to prepare in the same manner as Swiss chard. To retain the vegetable’s nutrients and color, cook the beets without peeling first. The skin easily peels off under cold running water after cooking.