A staple of Eastern European cuisine, beets were first cultivated near the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. People just ate their leaves until the 1800s, when French chefs discovered the root’s complex flavor. They can be found in shades ranging from sunshine yellow and bright orange to ruby red, and offer sweet, earthy flavors that round out a cocktail or shine on a plate.
Fun Facts About Beets
- Before the advent of commercial hair dye, beet juice was commonly used to color hair red.
- Beet juice is a popular cocktail ingredient. It adds sweetness, color and a hearty dose of antioxidants.
- About 20% of the world’s sugar comes from sugar beets, which have a higher sucrose content than those cultivated for eating.
- The candi sugar used to brew Belgian beers is an unrefined beet sugar.
- Beets have been considered an aphrodisiac since Roman times.
Beets are at their earthiest when eaten raw. Brian Grandison, sommelier of Hakkasan in Miami, likes to serve them with a rich Grüner Veltliner from Austria or dry to off-dry German Riesling. “The natural sweetness of the beet will delicately dance with a bit of the residual sugar of either of these wines,” he says.
When pickled, their sweetness is tempered by tang. “A crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley can really blend with [beets],” says Grandison. With sweet, caramelized roasted beets, he recommends, “a fruity, medium-bodied wine with earthy tones and no to little new oak, such as Beaujolais Cru from South Burgundy, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Nerello Mascalese from Sicily. The earth notes in the beets will draw out those flavors in the wine.”