If the quest to eat more vegetables has you scouring your supermarket's produce section and the arrangements of roots and greens at the farmer's market, chances are your eyes have been drawn to the bright beauty of beets and radishes. In brilliant hues from deep, inky purples to flashy fuchsias, and topped by leaves that are glossy, green and entirely edible, beets and radishes both seem to proudly proclaim their nutrient-packed healthfulness. The question of whether to buy beets or radishes is easily answered – buy both – but know that while they have overlapping characteristics, these roots do have quite different flavors and are typically prepared in different ways. Bring a bunch of each into your kitchen and enjoy discovering all the delicious ways to enjoy them.
Identifying Beets and Radishes
If you can't tell the difference between beets and radishes by looking, there's no shame in asking the grocer to tell you which is which. Both are sold in bunches, usually but not always with the stems and greens still attached. The roots, stems and leaves of beets and radishes are all edible.
In their most commonly sold varieties, radishes are usually smaller than beets, around the size of a ping-pong ball, with pale to bright pink exteriors and white insides. They might be spherical with a tapered tip, or elongated like short, fat carrots. Less common varieties of radishes are white, black, yellow or green on the outside. Watermelon radishes resemble their namesake fruit in their color scheme, while daikon, or Asian, radishes are white and significantly larger than regular ones.
Beets range from around the size of a golf ball to a softball, and are usually spherical. The best-known variety is a deep purple-y red color outside and in, and it stains everything it touches with the same hue. Golden beets span all the colors of a sunset, and pink and white varieties are available, too. Some are pink outside and yellow inside, and Chioggia beets are especially pretty, revealing candy-cane rings of pink and white when cut.
Botanical and Nutritional Differences
Beets and radishes are both root vegetables, but they belong to different botanical families. Beets belong to the chenopod family, which also includes chard, spinach and, surprisingly, quinoa. Radishes are a member of the brassicaceae family, along with broccoli, cauliflower, kale and horseradish. Beets and radishes are very similar, nutrition-wise, and both very healthy vegetables. Beets do have slightly more fiber and iron than radishes, and significantly more folate, vitamin A and sugars.
Differences in Taste
Taste is probably the characteristic in which beets and radishes differ the most. Beets are sweet and earthy, whereas radishes taste punchy and peppery. When they're cooked, though, radishes tend to become mild (some would say bland) and lose their signature touch of spice. Among varieties, black Spanish radishes are usually the spiciest, and Chioggia beets tend to taste earthier than others. Both beets and radishes are crunchy when raw, although radishes are more crisp than beets, and when cooked, both are soft with a little bite, similar in texture to cooked carrots.
Preparing Beets and Radishes
While both versatile vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked, beets are usually cooked, and radishes are usually eaten raw. Radishes don't need to be peeled, just scrubbed clean, but beets are usually peeled, whether cooked or raw. A classic way to serve raw radishes is with butter and salt, a snack that can be elevated with compound butters and exotic seed-and-spice mixtures like dukkah and za'atar. Include radishes in a crudite platter with dips, or arrange some on a cheese plate. Thinly sliced, sometimes quick-pickled, radishes are also a typical topping for tacos. In a salad, shave or thinly slice radishes to tame their peppery flavor. If you want to experiment with cooked radishes, try roasting or pan-frying them.
Raw beets are best sliced thinly or grated into salads and slaws. Beets can be cooked by roasting, steaming, boiling, pressure-cooking, slow-cooking, or adding them directly to dishes, such as the best-known beet dish, borscht. Serve roasted beets as a healthy side dish, or slice and pair them with goat cheese on a bed of greens for a classic salad. They're also great in grilled cheese sandwiches, sliced on top of a burger and blended into a bright hummus.