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BEETROOT, BEETROOT, BEETROOT . . . don't you just love it!

  Beetroot - The History . . . . .
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  Beetroot - How it is grown . . . . .  
  Beetroot - Health Facts . . . . .  
  Beetroot - Fun Facts . . . . .  
  Beetroot - How to cook . . . . .  
  Beetroot - Recipes to try . . . . .  



Beetroot, botanically-known as Beta vulgaris, evolved from wild seabeet, which is a native of coastlines from India to Britain and is the ancestor of all cultivated forms of beet. Sea beet was first domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East – although it was only the leaves that were eaten at that time.

Beetroot was offered to Apollo in his temple at Delphi, where it was reckoned to be worth its own weight in silver!  The Romans began to cultivate it in earnest, and early recipes included cooking it with honey and wine. Apicius, the renowned Roman gourmet, included beetroot in recipes for broths and even recommended making it into a salad with a dressing of mustard, oil and vinegar in his book ‘The Art of Cooking’.
In early times, the medicinal properties of the root were more important than its eating qualities and it was used to treat a range of ailments including fevers, constipation, wounds and various skin problems. At that time, the roots were long and thin like a carrot. The rounded root shape that we are familiar with today was not developed until the Sixteenth century and became widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe two hundred years later. Many classic beetroot dishes originated in this region including the famous beetroot soup, known as Borsch


BeetrootIn the UK, beetroot is grown on the fertile soils of the Cambridgeshire fens – a traditional salad and vegetable growing area in the heart of England. The fens offer the perfect combination of soil, sun and water to produce a sweet, full flavoured root. Beetroots need a lot of sunshine to get the sweet taste they are renowned for.
The crops are grown from seed that is sown in May and the beetroot is ready to harvest from early July onwards. Once dug up, the beetroot is packed straight from the field. This continues throughout the growing season, which finishes in October. After this beetroot comes from store. 
Beetroot is one of the most environmentally friendly crops, rarely needing treatment with pesticides. The vegetable is best suited to the cooler growing conditions found in northern Europe and is an important part of Slav and Nordic cooking.


Beetroot is one of the newest ‘super foods’ to hit the headlines. Packed full of nutrients, it has long been used in folk medicine to treat a variety of ailments including fevers, constipation and illnesses relating to digestion and the blood. It turns out the Ancient Romans got a few things right as the benefits of a beetroot-filled diet are immense!

Beetroot provides a rich source of carbohydrates, protein, and has high levels of important vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. What is more, just three baby beetroot equal one of the five portions of fruit and vegetables that The Food Standards Agency recommends eating a day.
Beetroot is a great source of potassium, magnesium, folic acid, iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, niacin, biotin, betanin and beta-carotene. It also contains the important vitamins A, B6 and C plus powerful antioxidants and soluble fibre.


  • BeetrootNature’s Viagra – One of earliest known benefits of beetroot is its use as an aphrodisiac during the Roman times. And it wasn’t all folklore as it has been found to contain high amounts of boron, which is directly related to the production of human sex hormones.
  • Getting in the mood - Beetroot contains betaine, a substance that relaxes the mind and is used in other forms to treat depression. It also contains trytophan which is also found in chocolate and contributes to a sense of well being.
  • Getting in a jam - The red pigment in beetroot is used to colour strawberry jam as well as to improve the colour of tomato paste, sauces and strawberry ice cream.
  • Food of love - The Lupanare, the official brothel of Pompeii, which still stands despite the best efforts of Vesuvius in 79AD, has its walls adorned with pictures of beetroots.
  • Healing power - Hippocrates advocated the use of beet leaves as binding for wounds.
  • Beware garlic - Platina recommended taking beetroot with garlic to nullify the effects of 'garlic-breath'.
  • The commander’s code - Field Marshal Montgomery, an army commander in WWII, is reputed to have exhorted his troops to 'take favours in the beetroot fields', a euphemism for visiting prostitutes
  • Rags to riches - Sir Alan Sugar of Apprentice fame demonstrated early entrepreneurial flair when, while at school, he got a job boiling beetroots for the local greengrocer.
  • Litmus test - You can use beetroot juice to measure acidity. When added to an acidic solution it turns pink, but when it is added to an alkali it turns yellow.
  • Potent like a horseradish - The Oracle at Delphi claimed that beetroot was second only in mystical potency to horseradish, and that it was worth its weight in silver.
  • Everlasting love - In many cultures the belief persists that if a man and a woman eat from the same beetroot then they will fall in love.
  • Head and shoulders - If you boil beetroots in water and then massage the water into your scalp each night, it works as an effective cure for dandruff.
  • Out of this world - In 1975, during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, cosmonauts from the USSR’s Soyuz 19 welcomed the Apollo 18 astronauts by preparing a banquet of borscht (beetroot soup) in zero gravity.
  • Wonders of the world - Around 800 BC, an Assyrian text describes beets growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient world.
  • Turning heads - Since the 16th century, beet juice has been used as a natural red dye. The Victorians used beetroot to dye their hair.
  • Bottoms up – Beetroot can be made into a wine that tastes similar to port
  • Vanish - Beetroot is a water-soluble dye, and hot water seems to 'fix' the colour stain more, so use lukewarm or cold water to avoid staining. To cure the inevitable 'pink fingers', rub with lemon juice and salt before washing with soap and water.   On fabrics, try rubbing a slice of raw pear on the stain before washing, or rinse in cold water before washing in a biological powder. 
  • Beetroot burgers – In Australia, a true Oz-style burger must have a slice or two of beetroot. Even McDonalds and Burger King have had to toe the line and include it in their menus.
  • A diet for cricketers – The Beetroot Diet involves followers eating beetroot three times a day, alongside other vegetables and whole foods. The Warwickshire County Cricket Club adopted the Beetroot Diet in 2004 and won the county championship that season!
  • Record breakers - The world's heaviest beetroot weighed 23.4kg (51.48lb) and was grown by Ian Neale from Somerset in 2001.
  • Sugar rush - Beetroot has one of the highest sugar contents of any vegetable. Up to 10 per cent of beetroot is sugar, but it is released slowly into the body rather than the sudden rush that results from eating chocolate.
  • Messy business - The Elizabethans prepared beetroot by wiping it with fresh dung before cooking it.
  • Darling buds of May - Catherine Zeta Jones is reported to have become addicted to beetroot after eating it while pregnant with her two children.


Raw beetroot can be peeled and grated into salads to add a sweet flavour and great colour. You can also juice it with other vegetables such as carrots and celery. Use gloves or a plastic sandwich bag to hold beetroot when grating it, to avoid pink fingers!

To cook beetroot from raw

Don't peel or cut it, or the colour (and nutrients) will leach out. Gently scrub the beets to clean thoroughly, and twist off the green tops.

  • To roast: Small to medium beets can be roasted whole, or cut into quarters. Pre-boil for 15-20 minutes, drain and place in a roasting tin. Lightly coat with oil and seasoning and roast at 180C/360F/Gas 4 for 40-45 minutes (timing will vary depending on the size of the beets).
  • To boil: put beetroot in a pan of water, bring to the boil and heat for 40 - 45 minutes. Beetroot is naturally quite high in sodium so you don’t need to add salt.
  • To bake: preheat oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Put the whole beets into a baking dish, cover with foil and cook for 1-2 hours (depending on the size of the beets). Leave until cool enough to handle, and remove the skins - they should slip off easily.

Natural cooked beetroot (vacuum packed) can be heated in the bag – either add to boiling water & simmer  for 15 minutes, or pierce the top of the bag a couple of times and microwave (3½ mins at 650w or 3mins at 750w).  Leave to cool for 1 minute before opening carefully.

There are many herbs and spices that go well with beetroot including balsamic vinegar, bay leaves, citrus, chives, garlic, horseradis,; mustard (recommended by the Roman writer Pliny) peppercorns and thyme.

To clean up beetroot stains

Beetroot is a water-soluble dye so try one of these methods to clean up stains:

  • To remove from hands, rub with lemon juice and salt before washing with soap and water.
  • On fabrics, rub a slice of raw pear on the stain before washing or rinse in cold water before washing in a biological powder
  • Use a bleach solution for cutting boards and containers.


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