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Pretty In Pink : The Many Uses of Beetroot

A look at the history and uses of a classic ingredient.

A bunch of raw beetroot will probably cost you £1 and a packet of four pickled in vinegar might be 60p. They’re seasonal July to January, but even out of season they remain cheap and tasty. The colour, texture and taste of this vegetable aren’t to be missed in your cooking.

Let’s go way back in time. During World War Two, cocoa was being rationed and bakers used beetroot to enhance the colour of their red velvet cakes. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you too can use beetroot to cheaply colour your own baking. In fact, it even helps to retain moisture in the mix.

Beetroot is also delicious when roasted. Just like parsnips and carrots which go sweet and succulent after roasting, beetroots have a sweet, slightly earthy taste which complements a roast really well. What’s more, beetroot can be peeled like a potato or carrot. Try roasting chopped beets with one red onion and one cubed sweet potato. Takes about an hour but you can meal prep with it – it’s scrummy and you won’t find a prettier Buddha Bowl.

Beets in vinegar baffled me to start with. They taste quite nice on their own, but it’s a bit weird to snack by nibbling at a big red ball skewered on a fork… so I tried it with pasta! Take cooked penne and stir together with cubed pickled beets, peas, spinach, courgette and toasted walnuts. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and, voila, the pasta is pink! All this produces an unusual, savoury, and ultimately moreish flavour. A pasta upgrade to wow your pals- maybe for a belated celebration of Pink Week, or to commemorate ‘on Wednesdays we wear pink’?

Another standout is beetroot hummus, both beautiful, delicious and very easy to make. Additionally, Borscht (cold sour beet soup) should be tried by everyone. And, for intensely pink food, mix your beets with yoghurt or cream, or make an apple and beetroot smoothie (but clean your Nutribullet quickly or it might be pink forever…).

The health benefits of beetroot are also quite extraordinary. Indeed, researches from the University of Exeter found that athletes who drank a glass of beetroot juice before running 20 metres saw an improvement in their spring time by 2 percent. What’s more, researchers from the Queen Mary University of London found that the nitrate in beetroots can help to lower blood pressure and fight heart disease. Perhaps the strangest and least explained effect of beetroot is the fact that it helps you hold your breath. Indeed, in a study by the Respiratory Physiology and Neurology journal, subjects who had drunk a 70ml shot of beetroot were able to hold their breath for almost half a minute longer.

So there you have it. Pretty, yummy, and effective for anyone fighting heart disease whilst sprinting underwater – what is there not to love?

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