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Beet belongs to the genus Beta in the goosefoot family, Chenopodiaceae. There are several varieties of beet and all are used as food for either animals or humans. Most species of beet are biennial and are harvested after the first growing season when the roots are most nutritious.

The wild beet, Beta maritima, is thought to be the species from which cultivated beets (Beta vulgaris), originate. Wild beet is found on the Mediterranean and Atlantic European coasts. Although beets are native to these temperate areas, they are now cultivated in many parts of the world for food, fodder, and as a source of sugar.

The cultivated beet has several commonly used varieties. Probably the most recognizable agricultural beet (Beta vulgaris escuelenta) is the bulbous, reddish-purple root that shows up on the dinner table. Although these beets can be successfully stored during winter, most of the crops of red garden beets and table beets in the United States are canned, pickled or frozen. The red beetroot is often dried, made into a powder and used for food coloring and fabric dyes. Beet plants can have round globular, or long conical roots with several stems growing above ground. The leaves on the stems vary in size and from green to purple in color .

Another important variety of the cultivated beet is B. vulgaris crassa, the sugar beet . Sugar beets are quite large, with green leaves and white roots weighing about 2.2 lb (1 kg). The root is shredded, mixed into water , and heated. The impurities are removed and the remaining sugary liquid is concentrated and crystallized. The sugar beet has been cultivated for centuries, but its use as a primary source of sugar dates back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. France is a leading contributor to the world's sugar beet stores, which today maintains half of the world's sugar supply.

Although beets are usually grown for the root part of the plant , one type of common beet is grown for its greens. This beet is known as Swiss chard (variety B. cicla), or spinach beet, and has large stems, fleshy red and green curly leaves, and small, branched roots. The Mangel-Wurzel beet (variety B. macrorhiza) has large roots and is grown for livestock feed. Most of the nutrients in beets are found in the tops, which are used as greens. Swiss chard, for example, is a good source of vitamins A, B1, and B2, as well as calcium and iron .

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The plant referred to in rabbinic literature as tered, or selek (Er. 29a) is the spinach beet (Beta vulgaris, var. Cicla). The present varieties, red beet, sugar beet, and fodder beet, were unknown to the ancients. Although the long white root of the beet was sometimes eaten, it was the leaves which were mainly used as food. The rabbis, in common with the Greek and Roman naturalists, praised it highly for its nutritive and medicinal value. Thus the Talmud states: "A dish of beets is good for the heart and good for the bowels and especially for the small bowels" (Bet. 44b). It was also held to account for the absence of skin diseases and of leprosy in Babylonia (Ket. 77b). It is a winter plant, but due to its nutritive value, attempts were made to grow it also in summer, and Solomon's servants were said to have been able to supply summer beets for his table (Deut. R. 1:5).


Loew, Flora, 1 (1926), 346–52; J. Feliks, Kilei Zera'im… (1967), 82–83. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Tzome'aḥ, 173.

[Jehuda Feliks]

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beet Vegetable native to Europe and parts of Asia, and cultivated in most cool regions. Its leaves are green or red and edible, though it is generally grown for its thick red or golden root. Some varieties are eaten as a vegetable, others are a source of sugar, and some are used as fodder. Family Chenopodiaceae; species Beta vulgaris. See also sugar beet

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beet / bēt/ • n. a herbaceous plant (Beta vulgaris) of the goosefoot family, widely cultivated as a source of food for humans and livestock, and for processing into sugar. Some varieties are grown for their leaves and some for their swollen nutritious root.

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beet OE. bēte = MLG., MDu. bēte, OHG. bieza; early WGmc. — L. bēta, perh. of Celtic orig. Unrecorded between OE. and late ME., when its currency was prob. due to LG.
Hence beetroot XVI.

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beet, leaf, sea kale, silver, spinach, or white leaf. See Swiss chard.