Beetroot (remolacha) is the taproot portion of the beet plant. There are several cultivated varieties which are grown for their edible taproots and their leaves are called Beet Greens. They are most commonly served boiled or steamed and have a taste and texture similar to spinach and are rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.
Beetroot are easy to grow and ideal for anyone new to vegetable gardening. For best results, sow Beetroot little and often, harvesting the roots when they are young, tender and the size of a golf ball. Beetroot will grow in any well-drained garden soil, but require fertile conditions, best ensured by digging in at least a bucketful of well-rotted garden compost or organic matter. When the seedlings are about 2.5cm (1in) high thin out to leave one seedling per 10cm (4in). Water every 10-14 days in dry spells. If plants are not growing strongly, apply 30g per square metre of high nitrogen fertiliser, such as sulphate of ammonia and water in. Though available year round, Beetroot are sweetest and most tender during their peak season, from June to October. Beetroot are enjoying a resurgence in popularity among modern chefs with heirloom varieties like white and golden yellow beets.
The usually deep purple roots of Beetroot are eaten either boiled, roasted or raw, either alone or combined with any salad vegetable. A large proportion of the commercial production is processed into boiled and sterilized beets or into pickles. In Eastern Europe, Beetroot soup, such as borscht, is a popular dish. In Indian cuisine, chopped, cooked, spiced Beetroot is a common side dish.
From the Middle Ages, Beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood. By the 19th century Beetroot held great commercial value when it was discovered that beets could be converted into sugar. In preliminary research, Beetroot juice reduced blood pressure in hypertensive patients and so may have an effect on cardiovascular disease. Only red Beetroot have the cancer-fighting compound betacyanin. Beetroot is rich in fibre, having favourable effects on bowel function, which may assist in preventing constipation and it may also help to lower cholesterol levels.
Beetroot is an excellent source of folate and manganese. The red colour compound betanin is not broken down in the body and in higher concentrations may temporarily cause urine and stools to assume a reddish colour. These deceptive appearances are completely harmless and subside once the betanin is out of the system. If your hands become stained during preparation and cooking Beetroot, rub some lemon juice over them to help remove the colour.