General Information: Although cultivated since pre-historic times, beets remain less-than popular for many. Perhaps they suffer from a childhood association of soft, mushy canned or over-cooked beets, which have permanently stained many food memories. If given a fresh chance, fresh beets can be an awakening. The earthy sweetness melds and permeates deliciously with salads, herbs, spices and fatty meets, and the young greens (if you can find them) are an excellent substitution to young spinach.

The beet is classified as the lower stem of a plant – something in between the root and the stem. Beet stems themselves are quite delicious and nutritious. They are closely related to the chard or mangold family. Typical garden beets have about 3% sugar content. These are the beets most often sold in markets. In contrast, beet varieties used for animal feed have sugar contents of 8%, and golden beets have an astonishing sugar content of 20%. Golden beets are used to produce most of Europe’s granulated sugar.

In Swiss markets, the red garden beet prevails. They are sold either raw (with or without their greens) or pre-cooked. Other beet varieties are available, but a little more effort and searching is required. Look for the orange variety (Burpees Golden), which is slightly sweeter than the garden beet. Look also for the earthy candy-striped Chioggia or the long cylinder-shaped Formanova, both of which have a refreshing sweetness and a more reserved flavor.

Season: Most beets in Switzerland are harvested from July through October, but some early varieties appear at the beginning of June. Fresh beets are best when purchased before November, although they are easily stored and usually present at the market through January.

Purchasing Tips: Look for beets with firm and smooth skins. They should be weighty, with no signs of softening. If the greens are still attached, then look at their quality. They should have firm stalks and bright-colored leaves, with no signs of yellowing or obvious insect infestation.

Storage Tips: Fresh beets, especially the early-summer varieties, should be refrigerated. The greens should be removed after purchase, because they will rob the root of moisture. Generally, you should use the leaves within 2-3 days and the bulbs within 7-10 days. Fall varieties can be kept in a cool, dark location for up to one month.

Cooking Tips: Beets can be eaten raw, roasted, boiled or steamed. Beet greens are excellent stewed or sautéed. To preserve the nutrients and color, always peel the beets after cooking them. Young beets do not need peeling, but older beets should always be peeled because of their high levels of oxalic acid. Older beets can also be difficult to cook because their surface will soften quicker than their core, leaving the problem of having a mushy surface or a hard core. To eliminate this problem, always cook older beets longer and at a lower temperature. Try roasting beats at 180° C, and warming beets in 60° C water for about 20 minutes before boiling or steaming them.

Nutritional Info: Rich in Iron and Vitamin B1. Non-organic beets can carry high amounts of nitrogen and should, therefore, not be used raw or as a juice. Beets also have rich or moderate levels of minerals and vitamin C.

Matching Flavors: Anise, Tarragon, Cumin, Coriander Seeds, Bay Leaf, Horseradish, Cloves, Thyme, and Black Pepper


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