You might be accustomed to the ruby red hue of standard beetroot — or even the yellow of its golden sibling — but it’s less likely that you’ve encountered the white-colored sugar beet. These root vegetables, which are related to both standard beetroot and Swiss chard, are typically cultivated for sugar production — in fact, sugar beet sugar makes up 20 percent of the world’s sugar.
While it’s not commonly cooked to be eaten, there’s no reason why you can’t try it out, provided you can find the vegetable at a local market or grow it yourself.
Sugar beets don’t have the same sweet, earthy taste as their red counterparts; instead, it’s been compared to a white potato that’s been sprinkled with sugar. If you want to eat the white flesh of a sugar beet, cook it rather than eating it raw.
Scrape off the skin with a spoon’s edge, or slice it off, and then cut it into cubes. While you can boil or saute, try roasting sugar beets — just like you would roast standard beets — to deepen their sweet flavor. The flavor might be too sweet to eat on its own; if that’s the case, combine it with other, more bitter roasted root vegetables such as parsnips or turnips.
Finish up the plant by cooking the green leafy tops of the sugar beets. Cut the leaves off of the beet at the steam, and rinse them under running water to remove grime. Treat these greens like kale — they are similarly thick — with a hearty saute in oil, plus salt, pepper and additional preferred herbs and spices. Like the beet flesh, these greens can be bitter or unpleasant-tasting when eaten raw.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make sugar beet syrup by slicing the beet flesh and boiling it in water to extract a sweet flavor. Known in Germany as Zuckerrübensirup, this syrup is used as a spread for bread.