Beet, a plant of the genus beta, belonging to the natural order chenopodece, among which it is known by its large succulent roots and a green calyx united half way to a hard rugged nut. The species are found in Europe, the north of Africa, and the western parts of Asia. Four species of this genus are cultivated as esculents; the others are mere weeds. The common beet (B. vulgaris) is found in a wild state in Egypt and along the whole of the seacoast of the Mediterranean. There are several varieties, differing in the form, size, color, and sweetness of their roots. Those of a deep red color are called blood beets. The "small red" and the "long yellow" are the most sweet and delicate, and have the richest color when served at table. Beet roots can only be obtained in perfection in a rich, light, sandy soil, through which they can easily penetrate. In stony or stiff soils the roots become parched and lose their succulence. Mangel-wurzel (B. altissima) is a much larger and coarser plant than the common beet, from which it differs by its roots being marked internally with zones of red and pink or white. Its native country is unknown.
It is extensively cultivated in Europe for feeding cattle; its leaves afford a very nutritious food for all kinds of live stock, and its roots, from their exceeding sweetness, are considered one of the most valuable plants on which cattle can be fed in winter. Swedish turnips, or ruta baga, exceed them in the quantity of nourishment, weight for weight; but on good light soils the produce of the beet per acre is much greater. The following proportional values are given by Einhof and Thaer: 18 tons of mangel-wurzel are equal to 15 tons of Swedish turnips, or 7 1/2 tons of potatoes, or 3 1/2 tons of good English hay, each quantity containing the same amount of nourishment; but the roots may be grown upon less than an acre of ground, while two or three acres of good grass land are required to produce the equivalent amount of hay. The beet root is also deemed the least exhausting to the land. - The white beet has been chiefly cultivated for the purpose of extracting sugar from its juice. It is smaller than the mangel-wurzel and more compact. The manufacture of sugar from beet root was first commenced in France in consequence of the emperor Napoleon's scheme for excluding British colonial produce.
The process has since been much improved, and beet-root sugar now competes on nearly equal terms with colonial or cane sugar,' in the markets of the world. Most of the operations in manufacturing beet-root sugar are nearly the same as those by which the juice of the sugar cane is prepared for use; but much greater skill and nicety are required in rendering the juice of the beet root crystal-lizable, owing to its greater rawness and the smaller relative proportion of sugar it contains. When beet-root sugar is refined, however, it is almost impossible to distinguish it from the other, either by the taste or the appearance. Five tons of clean roots produce about 4 1/2 cwt. of coarse sugar, which gives about 160 lbs. of double-refined sugar and 60 lbs. of inferior lump sugar; the rest is molasses, from which spirits are distilled.: - The chard beet (B. cycla), inferior in the size of its roots, is remarkable for the thickness of the ribs of its leaves, which are white, yellow, green, orange-colored, or deep crimson, in different varieties.
It is cultivated like the common beet in gardens, and forms one of the principal vegetables used by agricultural laborers and small occupiers of land in many parts of Germany, Switzerland, and France. Swiss chard produces numerous large succulent leaves, with a very solid rib running along the middle. The leafy part stripped off and boiled is used as a substitute for greens and spinach; the rib and stalk are dressed like asparagus or scorzenera.
Long Blood Beet.
Round Blood Beet.
They have a pleasant sweet taste, and are deemed by some persons more wholesome than the cabbage tribe; but in other varieties they have an earthy taste which is unpleasant. - Sea beet (B. maritime) is a perennial, and one of the most valuable plants known for greens. It thrives in gardens without any sort of care, and is increased by seeds, which it yields in great abundance.