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Beets - Tops Are Best

Most home gardeners are always on the lookout for new crops to plant - ones that grow well, don't take too much work, and at the end, produce a food that is nutritious and good to eat. For most plants you have to wait until it is fully mature before you harvest the best parts. But that may not be true for beets.


The ordinary red rooted beet (Beta vulgaricus L. var crassa) is related to the sugar beet, the foliage beet that is grown for the greens and not the root and also to Swiss chard. Beets are planted from seeds, are frost tolerant and produce the best commercial quality when grown during cool temperatures (50° to 65°F [10o to 18.3°C]). Beets have a hard tuber which develops below ground and is boiled before eating. Pickled and canned beet root is also a common means of consumption. More exotic recipes such as for beet wine are also available. Over the years the per capita consumption of beet root, both purchased fresh or processed, has declined to less than 2 kg per year in North America.

Many people believe that beet root is good for health because of its red colour. However, the red colour is not due to the presence of iron or lycopene- two important food components. The bright red colour in beet roots is caused by betacyanin, a water soluble plant pigment related to anthocyanin. Anthocyanins often have antioxidant properties and are believed to be good for health. Beet roots are good sources of folic acid, potassium and dietary fiber. They also contain sugars that contribute to its colorie content.

Even though the root develops in the soil the best part of the beet from a nutritional point of view may be the beet tops. The tops contain three times as much iron as the roots. The tops are also an excellent source of vitamin A. A comparison of the various nutrients found in beet root and beet tops shows that, on a per weight basis, the tops have a higher nutritional value that the roots.

Nutrients beet roots vs beet tops
Nutrient Beet Root Beet Top
Viamin A.(IU):336326
Ascorbic Acid(mg):4.930

University of Illinois Extension

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