What’s Going On With Beets?

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Have you noticed that beets are just tearing it up in the food world?   I just adore this deeply hued root vegetable — which is a polarizing player in the produce aisle.  You either love ’em or hate ’em. There’s no in between.   But somehow beet lovers are winning.  In a big way.

Beet mania started a few years ago. You couldn’t escape the classic beet-goat cheese salad in restaurants (image above: beet salad by jacobjacobjacob).  2011 was declared A Year That Was Good to Beets by NPR.  Now we’ve gone way beyond beet salad — these crimson vegetables are more versatile then I ever imagined.

A search on Healthy Aperture revealed  171 different beet dishes, including all sorts of salads, soups, smoothies, risottos, muffins, pancakes, fritters, fries, chips, hummus, cheesecake, cupcakes and other desserts made with beets.  You know how hot the red velvet trend is?  Well, beets are showing up as a natural way of achieving the red color.  Thinly sliced raw beets are also being used as a pasta imposter for creative ravioli dishes.

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natural red velvet cake with beets by Beth Kirby on flickr


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beet hummus by zoepinfold on flickr

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raw saffron picked golden beet ravioli by sweet eats on flickr

What seems to have really sparked the beet renaissance is the health-related research on beetroot (also known as table beets, garden beets, red or yellow beets or simply beets).  WebMD recently wrote about beetroot’s growing reputation as a superfood.  The same natural compound in beets that give it the distinctive red color is responsible for the potential benefits: betanin.  It makes sense, typically the darker the color, the more phytonutrients inside. The beet pigment betanin is also widely used today as a natural colorant in products.  (And it’s what may give you a scare after you visit the bathroom following a beet-heavy meal — but there’s nothing to worry about if you see red.)

Some studies suggest  beet juice may be a beneficial post-exercise recovery drink.  Move over pomegranate juice?  Beets are one of the richest sources of nitrates, compounds that are important for blood flow — including to the brain, heart and muscles. Nitrates are the good stuff (converts in the body to nitric oxide), they’re different from nitrites, which are found in cured meats.

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Some studies have demonstrated that beet consumption could help reduce the oxygen needs of certain exercises, make exercising less tiring and improve speed times in running and cycling competitions.

However, this study showed no improvement — although beets were consumed for only one day.  It may be that beet consumption needs to be more frequent and consistent to show a positive effect on performance.

Now this research has sparked all sorts of beet products targeting athletes.  Companies include Beet It, Beet Elite and Love Beets.

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Beets are now conveniently packaged pre-roasted in the produce aisle, and have become the basis for a variety of snacks, drinks and desserts — including these Veggie-Go’s beet strips, Plum Kids beet smoothie, and beet yogurt from Chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill, part of the savory yogurt trend.

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beet mashups

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So get ready for the beet trend to take off even more.  Have you bought a beet product that you liked?  How have you been preparing beets lately?

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