Let’s talk about beets. ‘Who talks about beets,’ you ask? Few too many people! Beets should not be a topic discussed only at salad bars and upscale restaurants.

Beets should be the darling of the produce isle, cooking channels, magazines and food blogs.  For years, Sakata America has been quietly and thoughtfully improving the humble beet, preparing it for its time in the spotlight. And the time has finally come!

A Brief History of the Beet

People have been eating parts of the beet plant since pre-historic times. The plant has been traced back to Northern Africa, where it is thought to have evolved from a wild seashore plant. For many generations, only the leaves were consumed. Beet root was first cultivated by the Romans, and began to resemble the modern beet we are accustomed to around the 16th century (Roots, Morgan- pg. 43).  Though many of us only think of the red root with green leaves, there are several colors and variations available today.

Growing Presence

Farmers, seed industry professionals, home gardeners and others interested in vegetables should take note of exciting consumer trends that will affect the crops of tomorrow. One recent trend is a consumer desire to buy more local produce. Nearly half of the 10,000 acres of table beets (roots) grown in the US are grown in the state of Wisconsin (cal.arizona.edu).  However, beets are easy to grow and widely adapted to most areas of the United States. You don’t need to live in Wisconsin to grow or enjoy local beets!

Market Trends and Evolution

Market trends and an increased consumer demand for beets have created a need for the beet to adapt from its traditional form and characteristics.

Trend #1 – The ‘Localvore’ Trend

Consumers want to buy local produce and support their communities. This ‘push’ for local produce has created a substantiated need for produce that is adaptable to growing in a range of temperatures and environments. Sakata recently introduced Falcon hybrid beet for warmer growing areas. Falcon was bred to be more heat tolerant than most beets. This gives growers a wider harvest window and could bring local beets into warmer regions and seasons of the US. Aside from adapting to warmer temperatures, newer hybrid beet varieties like Falcon bring many improvements to the table- fuller shape, improved tops, smoother exterior and flavor, to name a few. Improved variety selection supports local growing at all levels- from large farms to tiny backyard gardens.

Trend #2 – The ‘Hunter, Gatherer’ Trend: The Emergence of Men in the Garden

Millennials, the largest generation since the baby boomers, bring a relatively new gardening trend to the table – male gardeners. Studies show that men, ages 18-34, are much more interested in gardening than those in older age groups. Unlike female gardeners of past generations, they are primarily growing edibles (www.inforum.com).  These new gardener seeks crops that are easy to grow and unique. Beets in distinct colors and shapes fit the bill – Sakata’s Chioggia Guardsmark with its stripes, and Touchstone Gold with its bright orange interior are paradigms of fun and unique beets on the market.

Trend #3 – The ‘Compact Garden’ Trend

Millennials and retiring boomers are participating in a third trend- small-space gardens. Shrinking yard sizes, reduced home ownership among millennials and lifestyle changes among baby boomers broadens the traditional American definition of gardening.  Instead of typical large backyard gardens, vegetables are popping up on patios & balconies, in community gardens, in front yards and in containers of all shapes and sizes.

Beets are a great choice for non-traditional gardens as they do not require much space and, unlike many crops, can tolerate some shade. Well-worked soil will result in the best root shape. Beet greens are a quick crop- just 30 days in most cases, so they can be grown early and harvested to make space for summer crops, or late and harvested before the soil freezes. Bull’s Blood is a popular leaf type – the deep red leaves mature quickly and are very ornamental. Robin is a new hybrid baby beet. It creates a round root very quickly and doesn’t mind the tight spacing of smaller garden spaces.

Let’s Get Cooking!

Beets are easy to cook. They can be wrapped in foil and baked like a potato at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until tender. Allow them to cool and slide the skins off. Wear gloves if pink stains on your hands are a bother. Peeled beets can be sliced and warmed, or served cold in salads. They pair well with arugula, feta or gorgonzola cheese, olive oil, dried cranberries and/or apples and walnuts or pumpkin seeds. Beet roots, when grown in favorable conditions and evenly watered, are one of the sweetest vegetables- sweeter than carrots or sweet corn! They average just 50 calories each, and are high in vitamin C.

Beet greens are equally easy to cook and are very healthy. Use as you would spinach or chard. They are fantastic in a wilted salad. For a wonderful salad try Wilted Beet Greens.

Wilted Beet Greens Recipe:

Pat dry and sauté 2-3 ounces of tofu that has been cut into ½ inch cubes in 2 tablespoons your favorite oil. After the tofu begins to brown, add 2-3 cups of chopped beet greens (spinach or chard work also). Watch carefully and cook until just wilted – usually 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1-2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1-2 teaspoons of rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon of honey. Mix well and sprinkle with sesame or sunflower seeds.  Serve over brown rice. (Makes 1-2 servings).

The incredible variation of types, colors, and sizes of beets available today is a gift of generations of farmers, seed breeders, hobbyists and others. Through seed selection and breeding they have changed a simple sea-side plant into the beautiful and nutritional culinary powerhouse that it is today.