As colourful heirloom beets (beta vulgaris) gain popularity, the term “red as a beet” might be living on borrowed time. With bright pink, soft white, canary yellow and even candy-striped varieties making a comeback, beets are no longer limited to deep burgundy. While the English language may lose an idiom, fussy eaters and your fingertips will be grateful.
Kim Delaney, owner of Hawthorn Farm Heritage Seeds in Palmerston, Ont., has a passion for beets and says heritage varieties aren’t just pretty, they are often milder and sweeter. Think beets taste like dirt? Blame the grower, not the seed. According to Delaney how you grow beets determines their sweetness. “Sure, beets can taste like soil,” she admits, quickly adding, “but if they’re well grown, they’ll taste sweet.”
Whether you want to grow your own or sample the wide range available at the farmer’s market, the following are worth exploring. They’re colourful, they’re tasty and they’re back for the long haul. The one thing they’re not is “red as beets.”
Candy-striped beets (shown above)
Variety to grow: Chioggia Guardsmark
Slightly flatter than regular beets, this unassuming variety is easy to overlook—until you cut one open. Beneath the unremarkable exterior lies one of the most stunning vegetables on the market. When sliced, these beets reveal eye-catching concentric pink and white rings. Although these look like something you’d find in a candy shop, they have a peppery flavour that complements the sweetness.
Be warned, cooking can obliterate their contrasting rings. To maintain as much of the zoning as possible, steam or roast them as boiling will cause the red pigment to leach. Pickling is another alternative. What you lose in candy stripes you’ll gain in brilliant pink.
Variety to grow: Touchmark Golden
With their dark orange skin and bright yellow interior, these beets look a bit like peaches. Milder and sweeter than the red varieties, golden beets are a good choice for people who find beets overpowering. They also add a bright yellow burst to salads or side dishes.
Candy-striped and golden beet images by Charmian Christie