Beetroot (a.k.a. Beta Vulgaris) is the taproot section of beets and it’s safe to say that the reputation of this vegetable has skyrocketed over the last few years. Boasting an exceptional nutritional profile, this veggie has a lot to brag about.
Logically, as the popularity of beetroot continues to soar more and more people are wondering where it actually came from, what are its origins and what exactly is it used for. The chances are that if you’re reading these lines, you’d like to know the answers to these questions as well.
Rejoice, because in today’s post we’re taking a closer look at the history and uses of beetroot (dubbed the “latest superfood”) and we’re starting with the origin of beets.
Where did beets come from?
It’s believed that beets have originated somewhere in ancient Egypt during the reign of the 3rd dynasty. It’s said that they date all the way back to the early-middle Bronze Age (3rd Millenium BC) and that even the Babylonian civilization used them for various purposes.
It wasn’t until approximately 300 BC that the cultivation of beets started in Ancient Greece as they consumed only the leaves while leaving the roots as part of their ceremonies. It’s said that Hippocrates himself utilized beetroot leaves for wound dressing.
However, the cultivation of the root part began much later – during the 16th century. After that, it took almost two centuries after for beetroots to become internationally recognized thanks to France and its prominent chefs who acknowledged the growing demand for roasted beets as a delicacy.
Even the great French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte recognized the incredible characteristics of beetroot. During the mid-18th century, amidst the Haiti Revolution, France experienced a significant shortage of sugar. Thanks to sugar beet though, Napoleon was able to solve the problem.
Apart from being used as a food source, during the same time period (19th century) beetroots were used for making red beet juice that became popular among the ladies as an effective lip stain. Although some applied it on their cheeks as well to give themselves a more rosy skin tone.
In modern times, there are five common beetroot variations:
- Detroit dark red – Arguably the most popular kind of beetroot that can grow in a variety of conditions.
- Golden – This type has a yellowish color and that makes them look like carrots, although they have pretty much the same taste as their red cousins.
- Choggia – An Italian-kind of beetroot that tastes sweet.
- Formanova – Beetroot with a cylinder shape that generally grows quite long (up to eight inches).
- Lutz green leaf – This is a unique sort that grows much larger than most beets.
Note that they differ from one another in terms of form, size and shape. Also, their colors range from red to white and even yellow.
Plants in the beet family
The beet family is definitely not a small one. Science has given it an interesting name – Chenopodioideae and it’s actually a sub-family of another plant family known as Amaranthaceae.
Although the beetroot family consists of various edible plants, there are seven primary ones:
- Good King Henry
- Tree Spinach
- Strawberry Spinach
For commercial use, the most important ones are those that originate from Beta Vulgaris – beetroot, chard, sugar beet etc.
What are beets used for?
Beets are generally used as food, although the beetroot is also known as a medicinal plant. It can be used as a great food colorant too and beets are even considered an aphrodisiac in a lot of cultures.
When it comes to food, beets have a plethora of uses. It can be consumed:
They can be added to practically any salad and you can even make yourself a delicious beet juice by blending different fruits with beetroot.
Alternatively, beets make for a great addition to veggie soups. The borscht is a particularly popular beetroot soup that Europeans have been enjoying for centuries. It consists of many yummy ingredients including meat (beef or pork), peppers, carrots, potatoes etc.
Don’t forget that beetroot is also good for your health
Beetroots are literally jam-packed with essential vitamins and minerals such as:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Folic acid
The powerful vitamin and mineral content of beets ensure that you receive good amounts of some of the most vital nutrients, with the help of which you can wave goodbye to vitamin deficiency.
They’re also filled with fiber that we all need. And even though their sugar content sits at the top of all vegetables, beets have no (zero) cholesterol, very small amounts of fat and they’re super low on calories – only about 43 calories per 100 grams of beets.
Eating beetroots has also been shown to improve athletic performance!
An intriguing study conducted by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Diabetics from 2012 examined whether or not consuming whole beets enhances running performance.
Their findings were astonishing. Those who consumed beetroot managed to run faster than the placebo group and their running velocity increased by 5% during the final 1.8 kilometers of a 5-kilometer marathon.
Eventually, they concluded that eating the whole beetroot does boost running performance. They emphasize on the word “whole’ due to the high nitrate content of whole foods, as opposed to nitrates from alternative sources.
The history and origin of beetroot is fascinating, to say the least. This red, bulb-shaped vegetable has been around since the days of Ancient Mesopotamia and by the looks of it – it’s here to stay.
And when you take into consideration the variety of uses that beetroot has and its undeniable benefits. There’s a plethora of reasons as to why you have to make beetroot a staple in your diet.
Now make sure to leave a comment if you’d like to share what aspect of beetroot’s history you find most captivating or if you have any additional questions – don’t hesitate to do so in the comment section below!
- Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance (2012) – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22709704