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Summer Delight: Jellied Beetroot
A Potted History of Beetroot
Beetroot belongs to the Chenopodiaceae Family and is related to turnips, swedes, sugar beet, chard and even Quinoa. It is believed to have descended from wild sea-beet that grew around the Mediterranean coastlines. It is wind-pollinated. The leaves have been eaten since Pre-history times and are still eaten traditionally at the celebration of the Passover.
Celtic Origins: Beetroot has been cultivated for its leaves since about 2,000 BC; it was probably first eaten and spread by Celtic tribes as they moved around; its name is of Celtic origin. Early Celtic women also used dried and powdered beetroot as lipstick and rouge.
- About 1000 BC, Beetroot was being used in Egypt.
- Around 300 BC it is recorded that the leaves were cultivated and eaten by the Greeks and offered to Apollo at his temple in Delphi and also to Aphrodite, the Goddess of love; her romantic powers were attributed to beetroot causing it to be regarded as an aphrodisiac.
- The Romans also cultivated beetroot for its leaves.
- By the eighth century BC beetroot's colourful leaves were included in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
- It was mentioned as being in Britain, perhaps taken there by the Romans, but then it was not mentioned there again until around 1400.
- It reached China by 850 AD.
Only the leaves were used and it did not develop as bulbous until the 1600s.
Uses of Beetroot
Beetroot was used both medicinally and as a dye from very early times.
Beetroot as Medicine: The long, thin root was prepared and taken internally for fevers and as a laxative by the Romans.
Preparations made from beetroot were also used for the treatment of wounds and skin problems.
Beetroot as a Dye: Beetroot has been used as an ingredient of ink. Beetroot powder is used today as a natural colouring agent in a wide variety of foods including the improvement of the colour of tomato paste and sauces. It is also used in desserts, jams, jellies and iceream.
Beetroot and Nutrition
Beetroot is a rich source of antioxidants and vitamins. The leaves are rich in Vitamin A and the root or bulb in Vitamin C. Nutrients include magnesium, potassium and betaine. Beetroot is low in calories.
Betaine is important for cardiovascular health and may also protect against liver disease, especially reducing the build up of fatty deposits that are caused by diabetes and over-indulgence of alcohol.
The Benefits of Beetroot Juice: Due to the high nitrate level in beetroot juice, it can relax the muscles and help lower blood pressure. It has also shown that half a litre can improve the performance of athletes. It is also said to be useful as an antidepressant.
Beetroot recipes have been greatly varied over the centuries. The leaves have been served as a green vegetable, as salad, and the bulb has been roasted, grilled and boiled or served raw and shredded, mixed with salad cream.
- The early Romans cooked beetroot leaves with honey and wine.
- Norse and Slav people made the juice into a fermented drink called Kuas, after Kuasir, the Norse god of Inspiration.
- Beetroot soup made with the bulb is a popular vegetarian dish and its cold counterpart is enjoyed as Borscht.
- The Victorians used it in salads, soups and as an ingredient in cakes and puddings.
One thing to observe is that the pigment leaks easily during cook. The best way to cook beetroot is to leave the skin on to help prevent this leakage. It is easily removed after cooking, but you may end up with pink hands. However, it washes off fairly easily. The pigment is stabilised by acid, which is why the use of vinegar is so popular.
Warning to Beetroot Lovers: Over-indulgence may result in urine and stools becoming tinted a reddish colour as the body does not break down the pigment.
The following is a simple recipe that is popular in our family in the summer. It requires few ingredients and can be made even simpler by using tinned beetroot and packet jelly. It is delightful refreshing and a colourful addition to a summer salad.
Rate this Easy Recipe
- 3 medium-sized beetroots, OR one 425 g tin sliced beetroot
- 3 teaspoons gelatine, OR a packet of Port Wine Jelly
- 125 ml hot water, plus 350 ml cold liquid
- vinegar, if using home-cooked beetroot
- Place beetroot in a pot, cover with water and cook; remove, cool, peel and slice; retain liquid. OR open tin of sliced beetroot; drain and retain liquid.
- Pour hot water into a container, add gelatine; stir until dissolved. If using a mould or weather is hot, add extra teaspoon of gelatine. If using home-cooked beetroot, add vinegar to taste to 350 ml cold liquid. Add cold liquid to make mixture up to 500 ml.
- Place beetroot slices in mould or other container; pour liquid over; remove bubbles. Refrigerate until set. Will keep in refrigerator for several days.
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© 2013 Bronwen Scott-Branagan