Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Beet “roots” are mainly the lower stem of Beta vulgaris, a native of the Mediterranean and Western Europe. People have eaten this plant since prehistory, initially its leaves (chard), then the underground part of specialized varieties (subspecies vulgaris). In Greek times beet roots were long, either white or red, and sweet; Theophrastus reported around 300 BCE that they were pleasant enough to eat raw. The fat red type is first depicted in the 16th century. Table beets are about 3% sugar and some large animal-feed varieties are 8%; in the 18th century, selection for sugar production led to sugar beets with 20% sucrose.