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Store beets unwashed in the refrigerator crisper where they will keep for two to four weeks. Cut the majority of the greens and their stems from the roots, so they do not pull away moisture away from the root. Leave about two inches of the stem attached to prevent the roots from "bleeding." Store the unwashed greens in a separate plastic bag where they will keep fresh for about four days.

Raw beets do not freeze well since they tend to become soft upon thawing. Freezing cooked beets is fine; they'll retain their flavor and texture.

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Origins and Culture

The wild beet, the ancestor of the beet with which we are familiar today, is thought to have originated in prehistoric times in North Africa and grew along Asian and European seashores. In these times, people exclusively ate the beet greens and not the roots. The ancient Romans were one of the first civilizations to cultivate beets to use their roots as food. The ancient Greeks came to so revere the beet as a medicinal plant that it was offered up on a silver platter as a tribute to the god Apollo in the temple of Delphi.

The root originally being more carrot-shaped was used for medicinal purposes, while the leaves were eaten regularly. In Romany (Gypsy) medicine, beet juice was used as a blood-builder for patients who were pale and run down. In Russia and Eastern Europe it is used both to build up resistance and to treat convalescents after serious illness.
The value of beets grew in the 19th century when it was discovered that they were a concentrated source of sugar, and the first sugar factory was built in Poland. When access to sugar cane was restricted by the British, Napoleon decreed that the beet be used as the primary source of sugar, catalyzing its popularity.

And Swiss pioneer of organic horticulture, Dr. Hugo Brandenberger, developed a technique of lacto-fermentation to preserve organic beet juice in its most nutritious form to treat leukemia. It is now known that specific anti-carcinogens are bound to the red colouring, and beets also increase the cellular uptake of oxygen by as much as 400 percent.

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Nutritional and Medicinal Properties

Beets are an excellent source of the B vitamin, folate, and a very good source of manganese and potassium. Beets are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.

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Basic Cooking Instructions

Cook beets lightly. Studies show the beet's anti-cancer activity is diminished by heat. And don't peel beets until after cooking. When bruised or pierced, beets bleed, losing some of their vibrant color and turning a duller brownish red. To minimize bleeding, wash beets gently under cool running water, taking care not to tear the skin since this tough outer layer helps keep most of beets' pigments inside the vegetable. To prevent bleeding when boiling, leave the root ends and one inch of stem attached.

The beet's color can be modified by adding an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice or vinegar will brighten the color, while an alkaline substance like baking soda will often cause them to turn a deeper purple. Salt will blunt beets' color, so add only at the end of cooking if needed.

Preparing beets can be simple: rise them and cut off greens, if there are any. Boil them in salted water until tender. Cool, then skin and cut into thin slices. Dress with salt, pepper, oil or butter, and vinegar. Finally, toss with a fork until every piece is coated with the dressing.

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