Beetroot can be cooked and then eaten warm with butter (after having been peeled) as a delicacy; cooked and pickled and then eaten cold as a condiment; or peeled raw and shredded and then eaten as a salad. The leaves and stems can be steamed briefly as a vegetable, although this is preferably done with young plants. These and older leaves and stems can be sliced and stir-fried and have a flavour resembling taro leaves. The stems can also cooked with black beans to increase their nutritional value.
Reputed medicinal uses
Various cultivated forms of Beta vulgaris have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times.
The Romans used beetroot as a treatment for fevers and constipation, amongst other ailments. Apicius in The Art of Cooking gives five recipes for soups to be given as a laxative, three of which feature the root of beet. Hippocrates advocated the use of Beet leaves as binding for wounds.
Since Roman times beetroot juice has been considered an aphrodisiac. It is a rich source of the mineral boron which plays an important role in the production of human sex hormones.
From the middle ages beetroot became used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood. Platina even recomends taking beetroot with garlic to nullify the effects of 'garlic-breath'.
Beets contain significant amounts of vitamin C in the roots, and the tops are an excellent source of vitamin A. They are also high in folate, as well as soluble and insoluble dietary fiber and several antioxidants.
Beetroot is among the sweetest of vegetables, containing more sugar even than carrots or sweet corn. The content in beetroot is no more than 10%, in the sugar beet it is typically 15 to 20%. The characteristic "earthy" taste of a beet comes from the presence of the chemical compound geosmin. It is unknown whether beets produce geosmin themselves, or whether it is produced by symbiotic soil microbes living in the plant.
IThe pigments are contained in cell vacuoles. Beetroot cells are quite unstable and will 'leak' when cut, heated, or when in contact with air or sunlight. This is why red beetroots leave a purple stain. Leaving the skin on when cooking, however, will maintain the integrity of the cells and therefore minimise leakage.
The pigment is stabile in acidic conditions, which is a major reason why beetroot is often pickled. In the United States, it is the traditional colorant for pink lemonade. Beet juice is also a common choice for edible ink, like when marking grades on cuts of meat.