The world of food is no stranger to trends and it seems everywhere you go these days, you can find the beet. Not the rhythm to which you tap your foot, but those strange purple — or red or gold or even striped(!) — things dug up from the ground.
“I’ve been selling a lot of beets lately,” says Alex Hutchinson, a produce distributor at Jacksonville Farmers’ Market. “People say they put them on sandwiches, burgers, make drinks with them. I’m not a fan but most folks sure are.”
Farmers’ markets were once the main outlet for beet-buying. Now you’ll find them on menus at gourmet and fast-casual restaurants alike and outside the local Saturday market.
Hotspots like Black Sheep, Moxie and Brick Restaurant use beets in dishes, but it’s not just at high-end establishments where one discovers the versatile new darling of the epicurean set. Tossgreen, a fast-casual place with a menu sporting a healthy spin, offers raw beets as a topping choice.
Not feeling up to the exhausting effort of chewing your food? Jamba Juice has got you covered with its Berry UpBEET smoothie, featuring — bam! — beets! They can also be found at juice bars and in specialty drink aisles at your grocery store.
The Specialty Food Association, a nonprofit focused on unique foods, gives annual awards for these special products. Beets were found in two finalist products in 2015: beet yogurt and beetroot soup.
Neither brought home an award.
“I love beets,” said local park ranger Jolie Schlieper. “Just put some salt on them after you steam them and eat it like that, or dice them and toss them on a salad.”
Clearly the beet trend is booming. People want beets and businesses have taken notice. But why?
“I drink beet juice because it’s healthy,” says Jordan Bebout, a University of North Florida student. Bebout adds she doesn’t eat raw or cooked beets though. “It seems nasty and probably is nasty.”
What makes the beet so healthful? Is it that much better for you than other, more flavorful vegetables?
“Well, the beet juice is really good for you, so I juice them,” says Heather Shanley, as she picks and chooses for the perfect bushel at Publix. “They make me feel energized, but I guess I don’t know how they’re good for you. I just hear it a lot.”
The key to the beet’s healthfulness is also the source of its color, the pigment betalains. They contain both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to the George Mateljan Foundation, a nonprofit group for healthful food and living.
Thanks to these pigments, antioxidants in beets are slightly different from those in other veggies. Early phase research, according to the Foundation, shows beets might be a standout in antioxidant support. Other early research shows the magenta-hued plant’s strength in fighting inflammation, specifically for those with Type II diabetes and heart disease.
Additionally, beets can assist your body’s detox process. Phase 2 of detox, when your body mixes good stuff with bad stuff to flush out the bad, is substantially helped by betalains.
Maybe the health junkies are onto something. Now we need to know how to select, prepare and consume the perfect beet.
There are two parts to the beet plant: its bulb and its leafy greens. The greens are edible, so avoid wilted or browned leaves — though less-than-TV-commercial-perfect greens don’t alter the flavor of the bulb.
Look for smooth bulbs, rich in color, that aren’t bruised or wet. Before storing the vegetables, cut the greens off, leaving a couple of inches. Don’t wash them yet, because moisture causes rotting. Beets can be refrigerated up to a few weeks in an airtight bag.
Like other leafy greens, beet greens can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for a few days.
The cooking method with the most beneficial results is to steaming the beets for 15 minutes, max. Any longer and those super-healthy betalains will degrade. After they’re steamed, you can simply wipe away the skin. Be warned, though: Beets can stain your skin, so wear gloves.
If you’re seeking maximum health benefits, eat a beet raw. Beets can be grated over other food for some extra nutrients and color. They can also be juiced with their greens, though many prefer just the bulb.
Everyone Folio Weekly Magazine talked to about beets added one little disclaimer: After most folks eat beets, certain things might take on a purplish hue in the *ahem* restroom. Don’t worry, it’s just beeturia — it happens.
Every year, new health foods appear on the horizon. Some aren’t as beneficial and some quickly lose popularity, but it’s looking like the heretofore lowly beet can back up its claim to being a true health food. Maybe it’s time to pick up the beet.