Botanical Names: Beta vulgaris
Beet or beetroot, as they are commonly called outside the United States, was domesticated in the Middle East in the 8th century B.C. This root crop originated in the Mediterranean region from the sea beet, which can still be found growing wild to this day. It was then mainly used for medicinal purposes until the 1800s when French chefs realized their potential as a side dish. It is said that beets can help with liver disease and lower blood pressure when used in combination with some medicines. Most beets are ruby red, but also come in colors of white, yellow, purple and striped.
Beets are part of the Chenopodiaceae family, also known as the Goosefoot family. Within this botanical family includes spinach, Swiss chard, quinoa among 1,500 other species. Plants within this family are typically edible and rich in calcium. Many of the family members tolerate salty and alkaline soils causing them to be ideal plants for these locations.
People are most familiar with red or purple beets, often as children we experience canned beets from the grocery store. Please do not let this be your only taste experience with beets because it is completely wrong. Give beets a try again, I promise they will taste completely different than you remember. Roasted beets are absolutely delicious and when they come straight from the garden they are amazing. Beets are similar in potatoes where they almost will take on qualities of whatever you pair with them such as cooking them au gratin replacing the potatoes with beets. Delicious!
Here are some red varieties that have won over gardener’s hearts for years:
‘Detriot Dark Red’ – This most popular heirloom variety dates back to the late 1800s. It makes me wonder if the French chefs mentioned above used this specific variety in their culinary creations. Prized for its roasted qualities, perfect for canning and the greens are delicious as well. The flavor is described to be sweet and tasty. Harvest at 55 days after planting.
‘Cylindra’ – Want to impress your guests at your next dinner party? Serve them ‘Cylindra’ beets which look more like a carrot than a beet. This Danish heirloom variety dates back to the 1880s and goes by two other names including ‘Formanova’ and ‘Butter Slicer’. The latter name it due to gets soft and desirable texture. The almost burgundy long, cylindrical shape is where the name obviously stems. At full growth after 60 days, most measure out at being typically 6 to 9 inches long.
‘Crapaudine’ – It is believed that is beet variety is the oldest heirloom seed available dating back 1000 years. In the French book, The Vegetable Garden, published in 1885 it is stated then to be one of the oldest known varieties. This is a very, very rare selection and if you are able to find seeds – buy them right away. Like many older varieties, it is the shape of a carrot, but the flavor is clamored for by top chefs across the world.
‘Crosby Egyptian’ – Another variety that is not your type beet shape, it is more flatted than round. The root is fabulous, but many gardeners rave about the greens. From seedling to older greens, they are full of flavor and are a must-have for anyone who loves beets. It is said that the “Egyptian” beet varieties were developed in Germany and this variety became popular in the States around 1880. This variety received a glowering endorsement in the American Garden and has been a favorite of kitchen gardeners since 1889.