What is a beetroot?
The vibrant beetroot is a healthy and versatile accompaniment to many meals. In Australia, beetroot is well known as the iconic ingredient of the traditional Aussie version of a hamburger. It is also widely enjoyed fresh in salads or roasted to accompany meat or added to a pasta dish.
Cultivated from the wild beets found around the coasts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, beetroot is native to the Mediterranean. The early Romans only used the leaves of beetroot, although in our time it is the root that is most often eaten.
The Eastern and Central Europeans love their borscht – a thick soup of cooked beetroots blended with water and other vegetables and spiked with vinegar. Richer versions include meat and dumplings.
The standard large varieties of beetroot are usually not identified by name. Beetroot skin colour can range from intense dark red/purple to pale red. Baby beetroot is picked, usually between May and November, when it is the size of a golf ball. New, hybrid beetroot varieties have gold or white skin or red skin with white stripes.
Why beetroot is good to eat
- Beetroot is a good source of vitamin C, iron, folate and magnesium.
- It is also a great source of dietary fibre.
- The intense red colour of beetroot is due to betacyanin – an antioxidant that is important for a healthy heart.
- Energy – 100 g of cooked beetroot has about 200 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Beetroot is easy to grow and seeds (or seedlings) can be planted year round. It grows best in cool conditions and you should water the plant frequently so the core of the beetroot does not become woody and dry.
For best-tasting and tender beetroot, start harvesting when the roots are golf ball to tennis ball size. This is usually around 70 days after sowing the seedlings or 90 days after sowing the seeds. When you harvest, place a gardening fork under the root and lift while gently holding the top of the beetroot.
Look for beetroot that are smooth-skinned, without splits around the top. Old, dry-looking beetroot will taste woody and won’t have very good flavour. You should select those with fresh stems and leaves that are not wilted or damaged.
How to store and keep beetroot
The leaves and stems of beetroot should be used within two days of buying. Trim the top of the beetroot, wipe away excess dirt, and place the roots of the plant in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. They will last for up to two weeks when stored this way.
How to use
- Roast beetroot with some thyme, crushed cloves of garlic, a grind of salt and a sprinkle of olive oil – toss with feta cheese before serving with grilled meat or fish.
- Don’t throw the beetroot leaves away – sauté them with a little garlic and oil and use them in dishes just like you would use silverbeet.
- For a sophisticated, colourful salad – grate raw beetroot and carrot, add finely sliced celery and toasted walnuts and dress with cider vinegar and honey.
- Peeling beetroot and cutting the stem causes the colour to run – use gloves to avoid staining your hands.
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