Beta vulgaris, the beet or beetroot, is an annual or biennial herbaceous plant in the Amaranthaceae, the amaranth family (formerly placed in Chenopodiaceae, the goosefoot or spinach family), which originated in southern Europe and western Asia, and has been developed into three distinct varieties specialized for different edible parts of the plant: Swiss chard (var. cicla), which has large leaves and prominent fleshy stems is used as a leafy vegetable; sugar beet (var. vulgaris), which has a very large, irregularly shaped fleshy root (up to 0.35 m, or 1 ft, long and weighing 1.5 to 2.5 kg, or 3 to 5 pounds) that lacks the red color typically associated with beets, and is used as a source of sugar (the sugar refined from it is sucrose, the same as that from sugar cane, Saccharum species) and as animal fodder; and beet or beetroot (previously classified var. esculenta, although now usually placed in the same group with var. vulgaris), which has a red to purple fleshy spherical or elongated root and is used as a root vegetable. All three varieties were derived from the wild sea-beet (often classified as B. vulgaris var. maritima).
Beets of all varieties typically grow in a basal rosette, then with alternate leaves on flowering stems, which can grow to 1.25 m (4 ft) in the biennial sugarbeet varieties, but are typically 0.5 to 0.75 m (1.5 to 2.5 ft) in Swiss chard and beetroot. The flowers are typically small, greenish to yellow, growing in small clusters on slender spikes, with a 5-parted calyx that lacks petals. The fruit often develops from aggregates of two or more flowers joined at their bases, and forms a small, spiny or hard, irregularly shaped “seed” with a woody calyx.
The leaf, leaf stalks, and roots of beet plants are edible. The leaves are high in vitamin A and minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Beetroots are high in magnesium and manganese, with some vitamin C. The leaves of Swiss chard and beetroot plants can be used in salads but are more often prepared as a cooked green, or in soups or tarts; the stems of Swiss chard are sometimes prepared similarly to asparagus (Asparagus officinale). Beetroots are often cooked as a vegetable, and are very typical in Flemish and Slavic (northern European) cuisines, including the popular Russian and Polish beet soup (borscht or barszcz). They are also frequently pickled and served as a salad or condiment, or are occasionally grated and used fresh in salads. Sugar beets account for roughly 1/5 of the world’s total production of sucrose (refined sugar), and are a key source of sugar in north temperate climates (sugar maple, Acer saccharum, is another leading northern source). The molasses produced as a by-product of refining sugar from sugar beets is used to make vinegar and yeast, as well as antibiotics.
(Bailey et al. 1976, van Wyk 2005, Wikipedia 2012.)
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Habitat & Distribution
larva of Amauromyza flavifrons mines leaf of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / pathogen
embedded oospore of Aphanomyces cochlioides infects and damages necrotic at base cotyledon of seedling of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / pathogen
Beet Mild Yellowing Virus infects and damages live, thickened, dry, brittle, red-yellow leaf (outer) of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / pathogen
Beet Mosaic virus infects and damages live leaf of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / pathogen
Beet Yellows virus infects and damages live, thickened, dry, brittle, red-yellow leaf (outer) of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / spot causer
amphigenous colony of Cercospora dematiaceous anamorph of Cercospora beticola causes spots on wilting leaf of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / pathogen
Crinkle virus infects and damages leaf of Beta vulgaris
In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / feeds on
Diplodia coelomycetous anamorph of Diplodia betae feeds on Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / parasite
cleistothecium of Erysiphe betae parasitises live Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / pathogen
amphigenous colony of Mycocentrospora anamorph of Mycocentrospora acerina infects and damages live leaf of Beta vulgaris
Remarks: captive: in captivity, culture, or experimentally induced
Foodplant / sap sucker
nymph of Parapiesma quadratum quadratum sucks sap of Beta vulgaris
Other: unusual host/prey
Foodplant / gall
Physoderma leproides causes gall of live root of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / sap sucker
adult of Piesma maculatum sucks sap of Beta vulgaris
Other: minor host/prey
Foodplant / saprobe
pycnidium of Phoma coelomycetous anamorph of Pleospora bjoerlingii is saprobic on dead stem of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / spot causer
amphigenous colony of Ramularia anamorph of Ramularia beticola causes spots on live leaf of Beta vulgaris
Foodplant / spot causer
very crowded, blackish pycnidium of Septoria coelomycetous anamorph of Septoria betae causes spots on dead stem of Beta vulgaris
Remarks: season: 9
Foodplant / parasite
amphigenous pycnium of Uromyces beticola parasitises live leaf of Beta vulgaris
Life History and Behavior
Annual or short-lived perennial.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Beta vulgaris
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Beta vulgaris
Public Records: 9
Specimens with Barcodes: 9
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Beta vulgaris (beet) is a plant in the Amaranthaceae family (which is now included in Betoideae subfamily). It has numerous cultivated varieties, the most well known of which is the root vegetable known as the beetroot or garden beet. Other cultivated varieties include the leaf vegetable chard; the sugar beet, used to produce table sugar; and mangelwurzel, which is a fodder crop. Three subspecies are typically recognised. All cultivated varieties fall into the subspecies Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris. Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima, commonly known as the sea beet, is the wild ancestor of these and is found throughout the Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Near East, and India. A second wild subspecies, Beta vulgaris subsp. adanensis, occurs from Greece to Syria.
The roots are most commonly deep red-purple in color, but less common varieties include golden yellow and red-and-white striped roots.
Beta vulgaris is an herbaceous biennial or, rarely, perennial plant with leafy stems growing to 1–2 m tall. The leaves are heart-shaped, 5–20 cm long on wild plants (often much larger in cultivated plants). The flowers are produced in dense spikes; each flower is very small, 3–5 mm diameter, green or tinged reddish, with five petals; they are wind pollinated. The fruit is a cluster of hard nutlets.
The taxonomy of the various wild and cultivated races of beets has a long and complicated history. Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops following Letschert's 1993 treatment of Beta, section Beta recognizes the following taxa for cultivated varieties, which are grown for their taproots, leaves, or swollen midribs:
- B. v. ssp. vulgaris convar. cicla (leaf beet or chard) - The leaf beet group has a long history dating to the second millennium BC. The first cultivated forms were believed to have been domesticated in the Mediterranean, but were introduced to the Middle East, India, and finally China by 850 AD. These were used as medicinal plants in Ancient Greece and Medieval Europe. Their popularity declined in Europe following the introduction of spinach.
- B. v. ssp. v. convar. cicla. var. cicla (spinach beet) - This variety is widely cultivated for its leaves, which are usually cooked like spinach. It can be found in many grocery stores around the world.
- B. v. ssp. v. convar. cicla. var. flavescens (Swiss chard) - Chard leaves have thick and fleshy midribs. Both the midribs and the leaf blades are used as vegetables, often in separate dishes. Some cultivars are also grown ornamentally for their coloured midribs. The thickened midribs are thought to have arisen from the spinach beet by mutation.
- B. v. ssp. vulgaris convar. vulgaris (tuberous beets) - This grouping contains all beets grown for their thickened tubers rather than their leaves.
- B. v. ssp. v. convar. vulgaris var. crassa (mangelwurzel) - This variety was developed in the 18th century for its tubers for use as a fodder crop.
- B. v. ssp. v. convar. vulgaris var. altissima (sugar beet) - The sugar beet is a major commercial crop due to its high concentrations of sucrose, which is extracted to produce table sugar. It was developed in Germany in the late 18th century after the roots of beets were found to contain sugar in 1747.
- B. v. ssp. v. convar. vulgaris var. vulgaris (beetroot or garden beet) - This is the red root vegetable that is most typically associated with the word 'beet'. It is especially popular in Eastern Europe where it is the main ingredient of borscht.
Beets are a food plant for the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species.
Spinach beet leaves are eaten as a pot herb. Young leaves of the garden beet are sometimes used similarly. The midribs of Swiss chard are eaten boiled while the whole leaf blades are eaten as spinach beet.
In some parts of Africa, the whole leaf blades are usually prepared with the midribs as one dish.
The usually deep-red roots of garden beet can be baked, boiled, or steamed, and often served hot as a cooked vegetable or cold as a salad vegetable. They are also pickled. Raw beets are added to salads. A large proportion of the commercial production is processed into boiled and sterilised beets or into pickles. In Eastern Europe beet soup, such as cold borsch, is a popular dish. Yellow-coloured garden beets are grown on a very small scale for home consumption.
The consumption of beets causes pink urine in some people.
|This section relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (April 2013)|
Beets are low in calories (about 45 kcal per 100 g) and have zero cholesterol and a minute amount of fat. Nutrition comes from the beets' vitamins, minerals, and unique plant-derived anti-oxidants.
A phytochemical compound, glycine betaine, is found in the root. Betaine lowers the chance of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and peripheral vascular diseases. Beets in raw form are high in folates. Folates are essential in the synthesis of DNA within cells. Vitamin-C is found in small amounts.
The root provides B-complex vitamins including niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), and pyridoxine (B-6), and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, magnesium, and potassium, lowers the heart rate and regulates metabolism in the cells.
Beet greens contain vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoid anti-oxidants, and vitamin-A.
The roots and leaves of the beet have been used in folk medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. Ancient Romans used beetroot as a treatment for fevers and constipation, amongst other ailments. Apicius in De re coquinaria gives five recipes for soups to be given as a laxative, three of which feature the root of beet. Hippocrates advocated the use of beet leaves for binding wounds. Since Roman times, beetroot juice has been considered an aphrodisiac. From the Middle Ages, beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially those relating to digestion and the blood. Platina recommended taking beetroot with garlic to nullify the effects of 'garlic-breath'.[clarification needed] Beta vulgaris beets have been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally (directly or as juice) and externally (as compresses) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, fevers, and infections.
"Blood Turnip" was once a common name for beet root cultivars for the garden. Examples include: Bastian's Blood Turnip, Dewing's Early Blood Turnip, Edmand Blood Turnip, and Will's Improved Blood Turnip.
The "earthy" taste of some beetroot cultivars comes from the presence of geosmin. Researchers have not yet answered whether beets produce geosmin themselves or whether it is produced by symbiotic soil microbes living in the plant. Breeding programs can produce cultivars with low geosmin levels yielding flavours more acceptable to consumers.
Beets are one of the most boron-intensive of modern crops, a dependency possibly introduced as an evolutionary response its pre-industrial ancestor's constant exposure to sea spray; on commercial farms, a 60 tonne per hectare (26.8 ton/acre) harvest requires 600 grams of elemental boron per hectare (8.6 ounces/acre) for growth. A lack of boron causes the meristem and the shoot to languish, eventually leading to heart rot.
Red or purple coloring
The color of red/purple beetroot is due to a variety of betalain pigments, unlike most other red plants, such as red cabbage, which contain anthocyanin pigments. The composition of different betalain pigments can vary, resulting in strains of beetroot which are yellow or other colors in addition to the familiar deep red. Some of the betalains in beets are betanin, isobetanin, probetanin, and neobetanin (the red to violet ones are known collectively as betacyanin). Other pigments contained in beet are indicaxanthin and vulgaxanthins (yellow to orange pigments known as betaxanthins). Indicaxanthin has been shown as a powerful protective antioxidant for thalassemia and prevents the breakdown of alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E).
The pigments are contained in cell vacuoles. Beetroot cells are quite unstable and will 'leak' when cut, heated, or when in contact with air or sunlight. This is why red beetroots leave a purple stain. Leaving the skin on when cooking, however, will maintain the integrity of the cells and therefore minimize leakage.
The sea beet, the ancestor of modern cultivated beets, prospered along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Beetroot remains have been excavated in the Third dynasty Saqqara pyramid at Thebes, Egypt, and four charred beetroots were found in the Neolithic site of Aartswoud in the Netherlands though it has not been determined whether these were domesticated or wild forms of B. vulgaris. Zohary and Hopf note that beetroot is "linguistically well identified." They state the earliest written mention of the beet comes from 8th century BC Mesopotamia. The Greek Peripatetic Theophrastus later describes the beet as similar to the radish, while Aristotle also mentions the plant. Available evidence, such as that provided by Aristotle and Theophrastus, suggests the leafy varieties of the beet were grown primarily for most of its history, though these lost much of their popularity following the introduction of spinach. The ancient Romans considered beets an important health food and an aphrodisiac.
Roman and Jewish literary sources suggest that in the 1st century BC the domestic beet was represented in the Mediterranean basin primarily by leafy forms like chard and spinach beet. Zohary and Hopf also argue that it is very probable that beetroot cultivars were also grown at the time, and some Roman recipes support this. Later English and German sources show that beetroots were commonly cultivated in Medieval Europe.
The sugar beet
Modern sugar beets date back to mid-18th century Silesia where the king of Prussia subsidised experiments aimed at processes for sugar extraction. In 1747 Andreas Marggraf isolated sugar from beetroots and found them at concentrations of 1.3-1.6%. He also demonstrated that sugar could be extracted from beets that was the same as that produced from sugarcane. His student, Franz Karl Achard, evaluated 23 varieties of mangelwurzel for sugar content and selected a local race from Halberstadt in modern-day Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Moritz Baron von Koppy and his son further selected from this race for white, conical tubers. The selection was named 'Weiße Schlesische Zuckerrübe', meaning white Silesian sugar beet, and boasted about a 6% sugar content. This selection is the progenitor of all modern sugar beets.
A royal decree led to the first factory devoted to sugar extraction from beetroots being opened in Kunern, Silesia (now Konary, Poland) in 1801. The Silesian sugar beet was soon introduced to France where Napoleon opened schools specifically for studying the plant. He also ordered that 28,000 hectares (69,000 acres) be devoted to growing the new sugar beet. This was in response to British blockades of cane sugar during the Napoleonic Wars, which ultimately stimulated the rapid growth of a European sugar beet industry. By 1840 about 5% of the world's sugar was derived from sugar beets, and by 1880 this number had risen more than tenfold to over 50%. The sugar beet was introduced to North America after 1830 with the first commercial production starting in 1879 at a farm in Alvarado, California. The sugar beet was also introduced to Chile via German settlers around 1850.
It remains a widely cultivated commercial crop for producing table sugar.
- "A synopsis of Chenopodiaceae subfam. Betoideae and notes on the taxonomy of Beta; USDA PLANTS". Willdenowia.
- "Spinach, Beet and Swiss Chard - Notes - HORT410 - Vegetable Crops - Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture - Purdue University". Hort.purdue.edu. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
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- "Integrative Biology 335: Systematics of Plants". Life.illinois.edu. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
- Zeldes, Leah A. (2011-08-03). "Eat this! Fresh beets, nature’s jewels for the table". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved 2012-08-03.
- Hanelt, Peter; Büttner, R.; Mansfeld, Rudolf; Kilian, Ruth (2001). Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops. Springer. pp. 235–241. ISBN 3-540-41017-1.
- Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (2004) Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 2. Vegetables. PROTA Foundation, Wageningen; Backhuys, Leiden; CTA, Wageningen.
- Keritot 6a; Horiyot 12a; Rabbenu Nissim at the end of Rosh Hashana, citing the custom of Rav Hai Gaon; Abudraham; Shulchan Aruch OC 583:1
- Apicius De Re Coquinaria 3.2.1, 3, 4
- Platina De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine, 3.14
- Vogl S, Picker P, Mihaly-Bison J, Fakhrudin N, Atanasov AG, Heiss EH,Wawrosch C, Reznicek G, Dirsch VM, Saukel J, Kopp B. Ethnopharmacological in vitro studies on Austria's folk medicine - An unexplored lore in vitro anti-inflammatory activities of 71 Austrian traditional herbal drugs. J Ethnopharmacol.2013 Jun13. doi:pii: S0378-8741(13)00410-8. 10.1016/j.jep.2013.06.007. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID 23770053. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23770053
- Carmen Socaciu (2008). Food colorants: chemical and functional properties. Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis. pp. 169. ISBN 0-8493-9357-4.
- Beets Varieties, from Heirloom Seedsmen, a website of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company
- Lu, G.; Lu G, Edwards CG, Fellman JK, Mattinson DS, Navazio J. (February 2003). "Biosynthetic origin of geosmin in red beets (Beta vulgaris L.).". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (American Chemical Society) 12 (51(4)): 1026–9. doi:10.1021/jf020905r. PMID 12568567.
- Stephen Nottingham (2004). Beetroot (E-book).
- "Can’t beet this" (PDF). Rio Tinto Minerals.
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- M.A. Eastwood; H. Nyhlin (1995). "Beeturia and colonic oxalic acid". QJM: an International Journal of Medicine 88 (10): 711–7. PMID 7493168.
- Hopf, Maria; Zohary, Daniel (2000). Domestication of plants in the old world: the origin and spread of cultivated plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. pp. 200. ISBN 0-19-850356-3.
- Hill, G.; Langer, R. H. M. (1991). Agricultural plants. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 197–199. ISBN 0-521-40563-7.
- Sugarbeet from a University of California, Davis website
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Beet.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Beet.|
Mangelwurzel or mangold wurzel (from German Mangel/Mangold and Wurzel, "root"), also called mangold, mangel beet, field beet and fodder beet, is a cultivated root vegetable derived from Beta vulgaris. Its large white, yellow or orange-yellow swollen roots were developed in the 18th century as a fodder crop for feeding livestock.
Contemporary use is primarily for cattle, pig and other stock feed, although it can be eaten – especially when young – by humans. Considered a crop for cool-temperate climates, the mangelwurzel sown in autumn can be grown as a winter crop in warm-temperate to sub-tropical climates. Both leaves and roots may be eaten. Leaves can be lightly steamed for salads or lightly boiled as a vegetable if treated like English spinach. Grown in well-dug, well-composted soil and watered regularly, the roots become tender, juicy and flavoursome. The roots are prepared boiled like potato for serving mashed, diced or in sweet curries. Animals are known to thrive upon this plant; both its leaves and roots providing a nutritious food. Mangelwurzel may require supplementary potassium (potash) for optimum yields, flavour and texture, and foliage readily displays potassium deficiency as interveinal chlorosis. In 19th-century American usage they were sometimes referred to as 'mango.'
The 1830 book The Practice of Cookery includes a recipe for a beer made with mangelwurzel.
In South Somerset, on the last Thursday of October every year, Punkie Night is celebrated. Children carry around lanterns called "Punkies", which are hollowed-out mangelwurzels. Mangelwurzels are also carved out for Halloween in Norfolk and Wales.
In popular culture
The mangelwurzel is featured in the 1984 novel Jitterbug Perfume written by Tom Robbins. The main character Alobar originally hails from a Slavic nation where beets are quite prevalent, and eventually the mangelwurzel is used as the base note in the mysterious perfume from which the book derives its name.
The mangelwurzel also had a role in the cult TV kids show as Worzel Gummidge's head, where it could often be heard to say things like "go boil your head."
Mangel wurzel is the only vegetable that was available for Sarah Bruckman to purchase in Two Fronts by Harry Turtledove. Turtledove also uses it as a staple of the post-eruption Maine diet in his Supervolcano series.
- Wright, Clifford A. (2001) Mediterranean Vegetables: a cook's ABC of vegetables and their preparation in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and north Africa with more than 200 authentic recipes for the home cook Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Common Press, page 52, ISBN 1-55832-196-9
- Raynbird, Hugh (1851) "On the Cultivation of Mangold-wurzel or Field-beet" Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland; New Series pp. 534-38, page 534
- Dalgairns, Mrs. (1830) The Practice of Cookery: adapted to the business of every day life (third edition) Cadell & Company, Edinburgh, Scotland, page 498, OCLC 24513143
- "Home". Mangoldhurling.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
- MacMillan, Margaret Olwen (2002) . "We are the League of the People". Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Random House. p. 60. ISBN 0375508260. LCCN 2002023707.
Relief workers invented names for things they had never seen before, such as the mangel-wurzel disease, which afflicted those who lived solely on beets.
- Commerell, Abbé de Mémoire et instruction sur la culture, l’usage et les avantages de la racine de disette ou betterave champêtre, Paris : Impr. royale, 1786, 8vo., 24 p. / 1788, 4to., 15 p. / Paris : Buisson, 1786, 8vo., 44 p. / 1787 (3e éd.), 8vo., 47 p. / Metz : Impr. de Ve Antoine et fils, et Paris : Impr. de Ve Hérissant, 1786, 8vo., 40 p. / Paris : chez Onfroy et Petit, 1788, 8vo., 47 p. / édition raccourcie, Paris, Impr. royale, 1788, 4to., 15 p.
- --do.-- An Account of the Culture and Use of the Mangel Wurzel, or root of scarcity, London : C. Dilly, 1787, 8vo., 56 p. / 3rd ed. Edited by John Coakley Lettsom. London : C. Dilly, 1787, 8vo., xxxix, 51 p.
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The European Union, the United States, and Russia are the world's three largest sugar beet producers, although only the European Union and Ukraine are significant exporters of sugar from beets. The U.S. harvested 1,004,600 acres (4 065 km²) of sugarbeets in 2008 alone. Beet sugar accounts for 30% of the world's sugar production.
In the United States, genetically modified sugar beets resistant to glyphosate (marketed by Monsanto Company as Roundup), a herbicide, were planted for the first time in the spring of 2008. Sugar from the biotechnology-enhanced sugarbeet has been approved for human and animal consumption in the European Union. This action by the EU executive body allows unrestricted imports of food and feed products made from (H7-1) glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) sugarbeets. On September 21, 2009, a federal court ruled that the USDA had violated federal law in deregulating Roundup Ready sugar beets without adequately evaluating the environmental and socio-economic impacts of allowing commercial production, and will be considering an appropriate injunction.
Sugar beet is a hardy biennial plant that can be grown commercially in a wide variety of temperate climates. During its first growing season, it produces a large (1–2 kg) storage root whose dry mass is 15–20% sucrose by weight. If the plant is not harvested at this time, then during its second growing season, nutrients in the root will be used to produce flowers and seeds and the root will decrease in size. In commercial beet production, the root is harvested after the first growing season.
In most temperate climates, beets are planted in the spring and harvested in the autumn. At the northern end of its range, growing seasons as short as 100 days can produce commercially viable sugarbeet crops. In warmer climates, such as in California's Imperial Valley, sugarbeets are a winter crop, planted in the autumn and harvested in the spring. In recent years, Syngenta AG has developed the so-called tropical sugar beet. It allows the plant to grow in tropical and subtropical regions. Beets are planted from a small seed; 1 kg of beet seed comprises 100,000 seeds and will plant over a hectare of ground (1 lb will plant about an acre).
Up until the latter half of the 20th century, sugarbeet production was highly labor-intensive, as weed control was managed by densely planting the crop, which then had to be manually thinned with a hoe two or even three times during the growing season. Harvesting also required many workers. Although the roots could be lifted by a plough-like device which could be pulled by a horse team, the rest of the preparation was by hand. One laborer grabbed the beets by their leaves, knocked them together to shake free loose soil, and then laid them in a row, root to one side, greens to the other. A second worker equipped with a beet hook (a short-handled tool between a billhook and a sickle) followed behind, and would lift the beet and swiftly chop the crown and leaves from the root with a single action. Working this way, he would leave a row of beets that could be forked into the back of a cart.
|Top Ten Sugar Beet Producers - 2005|
(million metric tons)
UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
Today, mechanical sowing, herbicide application for weed control and mechanical harvesting have removed this reliance on numerous workers.
Harvesting is now entirely mechanical. A roto beater uses a series of blades to chop the leaf and crown (which is high in non-sugar impurities) from the root. The beet harvester lifts the root, and removes excess soil from the root in a single pass over the field. A modern harvester is typically able to cover six rows at the same time. The beets are dumped into trucks as the harvester rolls down the field and delivered to the factory. The conveyor then removes more soil.
If the beets are to be left for later delivery, they are formed into clamps. Straw bales are used to shield the beets from the weather. Provided the clamp is well built with the right amount of ventilation, the beets do not significantly deteriorate. Beets that freeze and then defrost produce complex carbohydrates that cause severe production problems in the factory. In the UK, loads may be hand examined at the factory gate before being accepted.
In the US, the fall harvest begins with the first hard frost, which arrests photosynthesis and the further growth of the root. Depending on the local climate, it may be carried out over the course of a few weeks or be prolonged throughout the winter months. The harvest and processing of the beet is referred to as "the campaign", reflecting the organization required to deliver the crop at a steady rate to processing factories that run 24 hours a day for the duration of the harvest and processing (for the UK the campaign lasts approx 5 months). In the Netherlands this period is known as "de bietencampagne", a time to be careful when driving local roads in the area the beets are grown. The reason for this is the naturally high clay content of the soil, causing slippery roads when soil falls from the trailers during transport.
Sebewaing, Michigan is known (to Americans) as the sugar beet capital of the world. Sebewaing lies in the Thumb region of Michigan; both the region and state are major sugar beet producers. Sebewaing is home to one of three Michigan Sugar Company factories. The town sponsors an annual "Michigan Sugar Festival".
Arthur Stayner, because of his energetic work in experimenting with the growing of sugar beets in alkali soils, is regarded as the "father and founder of the movement that made the manufacture of sugar in Utah a success."
After they are harvested, beets are hauled to a factory. In the U.K., beets are transported by a hauler, or by a tractor and a trailer by local farmers. Railways and boats are no longer used. Some beets were carried by rail in the Republic of Ireland, until the shutdown of sugar beet production in 2006 after the end of the government subsidies.
Each load is weighed and sampled before it gets tipped onto the reception area, typically a "flat pad" of concrete, where it is moved into large heaps. The beet sample is checked for
- soil tare - the amount of non beet delivered
- crown tare - the amount of low sugar beet delivered
- sugar content ("pol") - amount of sucrose in the crop
- nitrogen content - for recommending future fertilizer use to the farmer.
From these elements, the actual sugar content of the load is calculated and the grower's payment determined.
The beet is moved from the heaps into a central channel or gulley, where it is washed towards the processing plant.
After reception at the processing plant, the beet roots are washed, mechanically sliced into thin strips called cossettes, and passed to a machine called a diffuser to extract the sugar content into a water solution.
Diffusers are long vessels of many metres in which the beet slices go in one direction while hot water goes in the opposite direction. The movement may either be by a rotating screw or the whole unit rotates, and the water and cossettes move through internal chambers. There are three common designs of diffuser: the horizontal rotating 'RT' (Raffinerie Tirlemontoise, manufacturer), inclined screw 'DDS' (De Danske Sukkerfabrikker), or vertical screw "Tower". A less common design uses a moving belt of cossettes, with water pumped onto the top of the belt and poured through. In all cases the flow rates of cossettes and water are in the ratio one to two. Typically cossettes take about 90 minutes to pass through the diffuser, the water only 45 minutes. These are all countercurrent exchange methods that extract more sugar from the cossettes using less water than if they merely sat in a hot water tank. The liquid exiting the diffuser is called raw juice. The colour of raw juice varies from black to a dark red depending on the amount of oxidation, which is itself dependent on diffuser design.
The used cossettes, or pulp, exits the diffuser at about 95% moisture but low sucrose content. Using screw presses, the wet pulp is then pressed down to 75% moisture. This recovers additional sucrose in the liquid pressed out of the pulp, and reduces the energy needed to dry the pulp. The pressed pulp is dried and sold as animal feed, while the liquid pressed out of the pulp is combined with the raw juice, or more often introduced into the diffuser at the appropriate point in the countercurrent process. The final byproduct, Vinasse, is used as fertilizer or growth substrate for yeast cultures.
During diffusion, there is a degree of breakdown of the sucrose into invert sugars. These can undergo further breakdown into acids. These breakdown products are not only losses of sucrose but also have knock-on effects reducing the final output of processed sugar from the factory. To limit (thermophilic) bacterial action, the feed water may be dosed with formaldehyde and control of the feed water pH is also practiced. There have been attempts at operating diffusion under alkaline conditions, but the process has proven problematic. The improved sucrose extraction in the diffuser is offset by processing problems in the next stages.
Carbonatation is a procedure which removes impurities from raw juice before it undergoes crystallization. First, the juice is mixed with hot milk of lime (a suspension of calcium hydroxide in water). This treatment precipitates a number of impurities, including multivalent anions such as sulfate, phosphate, citrate and oxalate, which precipitate as their calcium salts and large organic molecules such as proteins, saponins and pectins, which aggregate in the presence of multivalent cations. In addition, the alkaline conditions convert the simple sugars, glucose and fructose, along with the amino acid glutamine, to chemically stable carboxylic acids. Left untreated, these sugars and amines would eventually frustrate crystallization of the sucrose.
Next, carbon dioxide is bubbled through the alkaline sugar solution, precipitating the lime as calcium carbonate (chalk). The chalk particles entrap some impurities and absorb others. A recycling process builds up the size of chalk particles and a natural flocculation occurs where the heavy particles settle out in tanks (clarifiers). A final addition of more carbon dioxide precipitates more calcium from solution; this is filtered off, leaving a cleaner, golden light-brown sugar solution called thin juice.
Before entering the next stage, the thin juice may receive soda ash to modify the pH and sulphitation with a sulfur-based compound to reduce colour formation due to decomposition of monosaccharides under heat.
The thin juice is concentrated via multiple-effect evaporation to make a thick juice, roughly 60% sucrose by weight and similar in appearance to pancake syrup. Thick juice can be stored in tanks for later processing, reducing load on the crystallization plant.
Thick juice is fed to the crystallizers. Recycled sugar is dissolved into it, and the resulting syrup is called mother liquor. The liquor is concentrated further by boiling under vacuum in large vessels, seeded with fine sugar crystals. These crystals grow, as sugar from the mother liquor forms around them. The resulting sugar crystal and syrup mix is called a massecuite, from "cooked mass" in French. The massecuite is passed to a centrifuge where the liquid is removed from the sugar crystals. Remaining syrup is rinsed off with water and the crystals dried in a granulator using warm air.
The remaining syrup is fed to another crystallizer from which a second batch of sugar is produced. This sugar ("raw") is of lower quality with a lot of color and impurities and is the main source of the sugar that is dissolved again into the mother liquor. The syrup from the raw is also sent to a crystalliser. From this a very low-quality sugar crystal is produced (known in some systems as "AP sugar") that is also redissolved. The syrup separated is molasses, which still contains sugar but contains too much impurity to undergo further processing economically.
Actual procedure may vary from the above description, with different recycling and crystallisation processes.
In a number of countries, most notably the Czech Republic, sugar from sugar beet is used to make a type of "rum" which is now known as tuzemak. On the Åland Islands, a similar drink is made under the brand name Kobba Libre. In some European countries, especially in the Czech Republic and Germany, sugar beet is also used to make rectified spirit and vodka.
Sugar beet syrup
An unrefined sugary syrup can be produced directly from sugar beet. This thick, dark syrup is produced by cooking shredded sugar beet for several hours, then pressing the resulting sugar beet mash and concentrating the juice produced until it has the consistency similar to that of honey. No other ingredients are used. In Germany, particularly the Rhineland area, this sugar beet syrup (called Zuckerrüben-Sirup in German) is used as a spread for sandwiches, as well as for sweetening sauces, cakes and desserts.
Commercially, if the syrup has a Dextrose Equivalency above 30 DE, the product has to be hydrolyzed and converted to a high-fructose syrup, much like high-fructose corn syrup, or iso-glucose syrup in the EU.
In Saint John, New Brunswick, sugar beet molasses is used as a de-icing product on the Harbour Bridge. The molasses has a lower melting point (-34 Celsius) than road salt and reduces corrosiveness.
A large root vegetable in 4000-year-old Egyptian temple artwork may be a beet. Although beets have been grown as vegetables and for fodder since antiquity, their use as a sugar crop is relatively recent. As early as in 1590, the French botanist Olivier de Serres extracted a sweet syrup from beetroot, but the practice was not widely used. The Prussian chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf used alcohol to extract sugar from beets (and carrots) in 1747, but the methods did not lend themselves to industrial scale production.
His former pupil and successor Franz Karl Achard began selectively breeding sugar beet from the White Silesian fodder beet in 1784. By the beginning of the 19th century, his beet was approximately 5–6 percent sucrose by weight, compared to around 20 percent in modern varieties. Under the patronage of Frederick William III of Prussia, he opened the world's first beet sugar factory in 1801, at Cunern in Silesia.
The beet sugar industry in Europe rapidly developed after the Napoleonic Wars. In 1807, the British began a blockade of France, which prevented the import of sugarcane from the Caribbean. Partly in response, in 1812 Frenchman Benjamin Delessert devised a process of sugar extraction suitable for industrial application. In 1813, Napoleon instituted a retaliatory embargo. By the end of the wars, over 300 sugar beet mills operated in France and central Europe.
The first sugar beet mill in the U.S. opened in 1838, and the first commercially successful mill was established by E. H. Dyer in 1879.
Sugar beet is an important part of a rotating crop cycle.
Sugar beet plants are susceptible to rhizomania ("root madness") which turns the bulbous tap root into many small roots making the crop economically unprocessable. Strict controls are enforced in European countries to prevent the spread, but it is already endemic in some areas.
Continual research looks for varieties with resistance as well as increased sugar yield. Sugar beet breeding research in the United States is most prominently conducted at various USDA Agricultural Research Stations, including one in Fort Collins, Colorado, headed by Linda Hanson and Leonard Panella; one in Fargo, North Dakota, headed by John Wieland; and one at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, headed by J. Mitchell McGrath.
Other economically important members of the Chenopodioideae subfamily:
- ^ Major Food And Agricultural Commodities And Producers - Countries By Commodity
- ^ NASS - Statistics by Subject - Crops & Plants - Field Crops - Sugarbeets
- ^ 
- ^ Sugar Producer Magazine
- ^ Food and Agriculture Organisation: Statistics
- ^ "Blood Poisoning Causes Fatality". The Deseret News. September 4, 1899. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=336&dat=18990904&id=5oIxAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZzADAAAAIBAJ&pg=4977,670193. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
- ^ 
- ^ Compounds from fatty fish, sugar beets, beet molasses may help fight depression
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: In North America, an occasional escape from cultivation. The varieties maritima and vulgaris were distinguished by Kartesz (1994) but not by Kartesz (1999).
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