BEETS- Interesting Fun Facts
By: Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension
When it comes to lots of different uses, you just can’t beat the lowly beet. For people, it’s a healthy vegetable – either its red fleshy root or its dark green leaves. Beets are also grown as livestock food or ‘fodder’ in some parts of the world. And because beet roots are packed with sucrose, or table sugar, they are the second largest source of table sugar, after sugar cane.
Beets are in the same plant family as spinach, and are very closely related to Swiss chard. They have been around for a long time, going back to ancient Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. In the 19th century beets were known as blood turnip because of the colored liquid that leaks from the roots when they are cut or soaked. That color comes from pigments called betalins. The red coloring that comes from beet root is processed into food coloring that is sometimes used to improve the color of tomato paste, sauces and jams. Beet coloring is even used to make red colored mulches for landscaping.
There are also varieties of table beets that have white or yellow roots, and some even have rings of red and white or other colors in their roots. Leaving the skin on when cooking red beets will reduce how much pigment leaks out of them.
Beet roots contain a lot of vitamin C, and the leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A. They are also high in folate, dietary fiber and antioxidants. Beet roots are one of the sweetest of vegetables, containing more sugar even than carrots or sweet corn. The regular garden beet has up to 10 percent sugar content; the special beets grown for sugar production may have twice that much.
An average sized cup of sliced beets contains only 31 calories, 1.5 grams of dietary fiber, and 1.5 grams of protein. Beets, like kale, spinach, carrots, and turnips, can also be a source of nitrates and should not be fed to infants.
Beets are easy to grow in the garden. Unlike a lot of other crops, they can be harvested at any time once they get big enough. Beet greens are best picked when they are four to six inches tall. Beet roots are generally most tender after growing for 40 to 50 days. The best size is between one and a half to two inches in diameter. As beets get larger, they tend to get tougher because of fibers that form. Beets can be stored for several months if kept just above freezing, with high humidity to prevent wilting.