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Beetroot: winter is the season for healthy root vegetables

Autumn is here. And with shortening days and sinking temperatures, our need for vitamins and minerals increases.

The life story of beetroot

Most people would say that beetroot is a root vegetable, but that’s not really the case. With a root vegetable, like a carrot, the bit we eat is the thickened root of the plant. With a beetroot, the bit we eat is the thickened section between the top of the root proper and the cotyledons. Left to itself beetroot is a biannual plant. That is to say in the first year, it stores vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in a tuber. In the second year, it would develop a tall flowering stem. But, of course, people intervene and harvest the beetroot before this can happen. We then benefit from all the nutrients the plant has stored up.

Beetroot and health benefits

Beetroot is a wonderful winter vegetable. With a high content of vitamin B, potassium, iron and especially folic acid, they are very healthy. The intense colour of the crisp, juicy flesh is due mainly to the high concentration of the colorant betanin. This is also used as a natural dye for food (E162), but it is not very heat-resistant. If you eat a lot of beetroot, you may find your urine and stool are tinged reddish. It’s nothing to worry about, however anyone who has problems with kidney stones should be careful since the oxalic acid in beetroot can lead to kidney stone formation. Apart from that, beetroot is all good: it supplies substances that protect the heart and circulatory system, reducing the risk of high blood pressure and other vascular problems.

How to cook and eat beetroot

Beetroot can be prepared in a wide variety of ways: raw, stewed, cooked or roasted. They can be served as a side dish, a main dish, in a dessert or a cake and as a juice. It’s advisable to wear gloves when you’re preparing beetroot, otherwise your hands will be stained red. The leaves can also be cooked and eaten and very young leaves are good in salads. A big advantage is that you will often find beetroot that has been grown locally, so it need not travel long distances. To save the trouble of cooking it, you might choose to buy beetroot preserved in a spicy vinegar mixture or simply pre-cooked and vacuum-packed in plastic film. From September to March, you can usually find fresh beetroot in well-stocked supermarkets, on weekly markets and in some farm shops. Check that fresh beetroot are firm with smooth, undamaged skin. In addition to the well-known dark red varieties, there are now also white, yellow, orange-yellow or red and white striped varieties. Fresh beetroot will keep in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator for around a fortnight.

 

Source: Heike Stommel, www.bzfe.de