Beets can be eaten raw, but the hard, tough, root vegetable benefits from cooking. Whether boiled, pickled or roasted, beets become softer once cooked, making them easier to cut as well as eat. Beets are most commonly a rich red-purple color, but they can range in appearance from yellow to golden orange to red-and-white striped. All beets are naturally sweet as they are high in sugar.
Softening of Fibers
As vegetables are cooked, the texture changes. Beets become more tender when heat is applied, as the cellulose and pectin fibers — dietary fiber — are softened. Beets, as a fiber-rich vegetable, soften significantly with cooking. The longer the cooking time, the softer the vegetable becomes. If you add baking soda to the water while boiling, beets will soften much more quickly. However, be careful as overcooking and too much alkalinity can turn beets to mush. The addition of acid, like lemon juice, will keep beets firmer during cooking.
All About the Color
Do not peel the beets before cooking, to reduce the amount of “bleeding” that occurs. The strong pigment of beets can easily stain your cookware, as well as your counter, utensils and fingers. In addition to affecting the texture, acid applied during cooking will also affect the color of beets, namely red beets. The anthocyanins in beets, the red pigment, turn much brighter in the presence of acid. Use as little water as possible if boiling beets to stop the anthocyanins from dissolving too much, preserving more nutrients and color. To further enhance color as well as reduce the risk of toughness, add only a little bit of acid at the beginning of the cooking process so as not to affect the texture of the beets as much.
References and ResourcesUniversity of Kentucky Cooperative Extension: Vegetable Preparation for the Family
BBC Good Food: The Health Benefits of Beetroot
Martha Stewart: 4 Ways to Cook Beets