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by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
What are your memories of beets? Mine is sugar, canned and pickled, with a side of greens on the plate. For me the greens were and sometimes is still the only edible part of the plant, but as a kid and adult I had family members who loved beets in all their forms.
Like many modern vegetables, beetroot was first cultivated by the Romans. By the 19th century it held great commercial value when it was discovered beets could be converted into sugar. The Amalgamated Sugar Company – was founded in 1897 in Logan, Utah, and is now located in Boise, Idaho. The company markets its sugar under the White Satin brand. As the Minidoka Irrigation Project of Idaho was nearing completion in 1912, Amalgamated Sugar moved it’s failing sugar plant in La Grande, Oregon to Burley Idaho. The location was chosen partly due to farmer land commitments and connection by the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company. The first year of the Burley factory had a higher production than any of the previous fourteen years in La Grande.
By the 1950’s White Satin Sugar was in every grocery store in the pacific northwest. The company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1950. A new Portland, Oregon distribution center was finished in 1951, the distribution silo could hold 2500 tons of sugar and supply it as bulk, liquid, blend, or package sugar.
Today’s leading producers of Sugar are in metric tons;
Western Europe, including EU-15 18,679
United States 7,552
The total percentage of sugar production value in the United States reported in 2004 equaled only 1,928 million and 2.39% of the crop, The biggest source is from corn.
Many classic beetroot recipes are associated with central and Eastern Europe including the famous beetroot soup known as borscht. Belonging to the same family as chard and spinach, both the leaves and root can be eaten – the leaves have a bitter taste whereas the round root is sweet. Typically a rich purple color, beetroot can also be white or golden. Due to its high sugar content, beetroot is delicious eaten raw but is more typically cooked or pickled.
Beetroot is of exceptional nutritional value; especially the greens, which are rich in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of fiber, manganese and potassium. The liver loves beets for detoxing harmful chemicals from the body. The greens should not be overlooked; they can be cooked up and enjoyed in the same way as spinach.
Beets are a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains from beets, and both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. Although you can see these betalain pigments in other foods like the stems of chard or rhubarb, the concentration of betalains in the peel and flesh of beets gives you an unexpectedly great opportunity for these health benefits.
An estimated 10-15% of all U.S. adults experience beeturia (a reddening of the urine) after consumption of beets in everyday amounts. While this phenomenon is not considered harmful in and of itself, it may be a possible indicator of problems with iron metabolism however. Individuals with iron deficiency, iron excess, or specific problems with iron metabolism are much more likely to experience beeturia than individuals with healthy iron metabolism.
So if you love or even like beets, summer is a great time to enjoy those sauteed beet greens, pickled beets or that Beet Salad.
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