Deep, earthy flavour and a whole lot of crunch, but what I love most about beetroot is the incredible colour that can transform anything shocking pink. The overpoweringly vibrant hue makes it one of the most bossy vegetables that can completely take over your dish. It comes from a pigment called betanin which is often extracted to create natural food colouring and dyes. Interestingly, beets were also used to add colour to wines back in the day.
Originally from Europe, beetroot was first cultivated by the Romans. By the 19th century, it was discovered that it contains one of the highest sugar contents of any vegetable and was then used commercially to extract sucrose from the beet plant. For years, it's been restricted to the corner of the plate as a forgetful side or mostly dumped in salads. But with its sweet and rustic charm, this root vegetable is enjoying a well-deserved comeback thanks to its health credentials.
It's difficult to resist the ruby red juiciness especially when you know just how good they are for you - the many beetroot benefits.
1. Helps in detoxification: Beetroot is reckoned to be a great purifier. It detoxifies your body by pulling the toxins into the colon from where they can be evacuated. Some studies suggest that beetroot juice might also stimulate red blood cell production and build stamina.
2. Low in fat and calories: Although it has a high sugar content, it is low in calories and almost fat free. Since it is loaded with fiber it makes you full on lower calories. This makes it a nutritious option for those looking to keep their weight down.
3. Heart health: Studies have shown that the high content of nitrates inbeetroot produces a gas called nitric oxide. This gas helps to relax and dilate your blood vessels which improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure.
4. Rich in antioxidants: Betanin, the pigment which gives beetroot its colour, is a potent antioxidant. Along with another class of antioxidants called polyphenols, these are getting more attention in the scientific community. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, antioxidants reduce the oxidation of bad cholesterol, protect the artery walls and guard against heart disease and stroke.
5. Folate, Fiber, Vitamin C and other minerals: "Most people think that diabetics should avoid beetroot since its sweet. It is sadly misunderstood. Beetroot is a great source of fiber and minerals like iron, potassium and manganese which are essential for good health and in combination with other foods it can deliver a lot," says Dr. Rupali Datta, Chief Clinical Nutritionist at Fortis-Escort Hospital. Vitamin C boosts immunity, folate is essential for normal tissue growth and fiber helps in smooth digestive functions. It is particularly high in protein and iron than most other roots and tubers.
6. Hair care: Beetroot is actually one of the best home remedies to fight the flakes and an itchy scalp. You can boil some beets in water and use the concentrated liquid to massage on the scalp. Alternatively, you can mix some beetroot juice, vinegar and ginger juice and apply to the scalp. Keep this for 20 minutes and rinse.
The nutrients in beetroots are heat sensitive. With the rise in cooking time and temperature, the antioxidant content decreases. Beetroot is rich in Vitamin C which is a water soluble vitamin that can be destroyed on cooking. Not only this, it also loses more than 25 percent of its folate when cooked. It is best to mildly steam or bake it at lower temperatures. Fresh beets are as happy in a soup as they are when pureed in a dip. If the jelly flesh has kept you away from beetroots, you can marinate it with some olive oil and herbs and roast it that'll add some nice nuttiness. Grilling, on the other hand, draws out the sweetness and gives it smoky flavour. I also like to throw some beetroot shreds in a bowl of rice with some mustard seeds, makes for a quick meal.
Save the greens
The next time you bring home a bunch of beets don't toss the tops away. These dark, leafy greens that are often overlooked are rich in iron, calcium, Vitamin A, K and C. They're loaded with vitamin K that plays a major role in blood clotting. An average male requires 120 micrograms of vitamin K while female adults require 90 micrograms - one cup of beet greens provides a whopping 152 micrograms of this vitamin. These can be cooked just like spinach and are slightly bitter as compared to the sweet bulb.
To juice or not to juice?
Beet juice is a more concentrated source of betalains, but cooked beets will contain much more fiber. Traditionally, beet juice was used as a blood purifier and to cleanse the liver. It is also considered a natural remedy for anaemia or iron deficiency. Beetroot, all juiced up, is a healthy way to get all nutrients that may be lost on cooking. It is also easier to digest and absorb nutrients in liquid form. Runners and athletes are often advised to drink beetroot juice that allows their muscles to use oxygen more effectively and boosts stamina.