Beta vulgaris: the common beet. Uncommon points of interest in this plant’s biochemistry include:
Betalains are the class of pigment molecules that give beets their color. The unusual thing is that just about every other purple plant on Earth is colored with anthocyanins; betalains are a unique exception, found only amongst the Caryophyllales order of plants (including beets along with chard, amaranth and dragon fruit) and strangely, a handful of higher order fungi including Amanita muscaria. Nobody can say how these two very different molecules evolved into parallel roles, but we know that they share more in common than just their color. Betalains have similar biological properties to the flavonoid anthocyanin; when consumed, both have antioxidant activity and can inhibit inflammatory pathways.
Nitrate is a soil-borne compound that plants absorb as a source of nitrogen for protein synthesis (found in particularly high concentration in beets). When we eat plants, their nitrate is reduced to nitrite by bacteria living in the backs of our mouths, and can then be reduced again with our own enzymes to nitric oxide. In our physiology, nitric oxide is an important signaling molecule. It’s a volatile gas that can diffuse readily across cell membranes, and it has a key role in the circulatory system, where its presence induces vasodilation and increases blood flow. This pathway is likely related to emerging research linking beet consumption to improvements in endothelial function (and potential impacts on cardiovascular health, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and cognitive function).
I like eating beets, and I really like cooking them in my Instant Pot – pressure-cooking is a quick and efficient method for this dense vegetable. And if your beets have their greens attached, you can wash/chop them while the roots cook, and put them next in line for under-pressure prep. (see: insta-greens!)
The hardest part about pressure-cooking beets is deciding how long to cook, because beets come in all shapes and sizes. At the market, try to select similar specimens. After taking notes on a few different batches, I was able to review my captain’s log and reverse-engineer the following basic formula which has been working out very well in my Instant Pot:
weight of the largest beet in your batch (in grams) / 10 = minutes of cooking time under high pressure
For example, the six beets above ranged between 152-223 grams, so I set my cooking time to 22 minutes – perfect! The number of beets in the cooker doesn’t have much impact on cooking time, so you can use the same guideline regardless of your batch size.
After the beets are cooked, I like to make the whole batch ready-to-eat by peeling them, slicing them, and tossing them with salt and red wine vinegar. Chill in the fridge and enjoy for days!
Recommended Reading: The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease
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