Beetroot-flavoured ice cream or beetroot-cured salmon are not combinations that immediately spring to mind when thinking about this root vegetable. But then not so long ago nor were juices, sorbets, crisps or ketchups – all of which are now becoming commonplace uses of beetroot. Produce Business UK speaks to some of the innovators finding new uses for a traditional product
Beetroot is now regarded as an extremely versatile vegetable appealing to a wide range of tastes. Its fresh new image is far removed from the traditional one of a pickled ball in a jar, vinegary and messy and largely ignored by swathes of the population.
According to Kantar Worldpanel data, sales of beetroot are increasing steadily. In June 2016, total sales were worth £54.6 million, compared to £50.6m the previous year. This represents a year on year rise of nearly 8%. Sainsburys has stated that bunched beetroot sales are up 25% on a year on year basis. Cepta Marchant, head of insight & development at G’s Fresh says: “We are currently seeing growth in raw beetroot very much driven by the Nutribullet/juicing trend.”
Beetroot’s increasing popularity is due primarily to recognition of its nutritional value as it is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well as being an excellent means of lowering blood pressure. One of its key ingredients is dietary nitrate, which converts to nitric oxide in the blood system encouraging efficient blood flow.
So important is this feature that the discovery of the role of nitric oxide in the blood system resulted in a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1998. Not surprisingly, beetroot is often described as a superfood. The high levels of natural juice contained within the root have made it a popular drink ingredient among companies looking for something different to offer.
James White was one of the first companies to begin selling beetroot juice back in 2005 and has played a major role in scientific research into the value of beetroot juice. “We started bottling beetroot juice because it tastes great – but it was the publication of the research findings into dietary nitrate supplementation that really encouraged people to try,” explains managing director Lawrence Mallinson.
“The medical research team from William Harvey Research Institute came to us in 2007 because they were using beetroot juice for dietary nitrate supplementation research – their ethics committee was happy to allow trials on human beings with beetroot juice immediately when they would have required many years of research on mice etc. before they would have allowed human testing of chemical nitrates.
“They needed us to produce consistently high nitrate beetroot juice – and unfortunately had found that nitrate levels in beetroot juice vary wildly (by as much as three times). We solved the problem by concentrating the occasional high nitrate batches of beetroot juice that occur seemingly randomly and using this to produce our Beet It shots each with a standardised controlled dose (4mg) of naturally occurring nitrate. The Beet It shots, together with nitrate depleted placebo equivalents for use in double-blind cross trials, are now used by over 200 universities worldwide for their dietary nitrate supplementation research.”
Beet It's Sport range
As a result, sales of Beet It have grown significantly, primarily for the treatment of high blood pressure. It has also proved popular within the sports world due to the beneficial effects on sports performance. “The increased blood flow caused by dietary nitrates in beetroot increases the blood supply to muscle extremities which increase oxygen supply which increases energy/stamina/recovery speeds,” says Mallinson. “The Concentrate Beet It shots have been adopted by an extraordinarily high percentage of the elite sports world – for example most international rugby teams (including England, New Zealand and Australia) many premiership and international soccer teams, many national Olympic teams (including Team GB, US, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia) across a wide range of sports such as athletics, cycling, rowing and gymnastics. We are increasingly exporting Beet It juice to the US, Australia and other EU countries.”
Now the challenge for Mallinson and his team is to broaden the market for its Beet It shots. “The elite sports world is a terrific market,” he says, “but quite small!”
Mallinson and elite wheelchair racer David Weir
Mixing it up
One of the ways in which beetroot juice is being made more attractive to the general consumer market is by mixing it with other flavours and juices such as ginger, apple juice and passion fruit juice. And it is not just beetroot juice that is being used in this way. Fresh beetroot has been given a new taste and image as a result of the creation of G’s Fresh infused range, which is proving extremely popular especially within the youth market. Cepta Marchant explains: “We set out to introduce a new customer to beetroot. A lot of people, especially younger consumers think they dislike the taste of beetroot because it is too earthy while jarred beetroot in the grocery aisle is too vinegary. We infuse fresh beetroot with other flavours such as chilli and barbecue [spices] to add something different to the category and inspire different useage. This range of beetroot tends to be less messy making it easier to use for the consumer. They are ready for immediate use, the range offers spiralized or shredded versions perfect for use on burgers, hot dogs and in salads.”
Marchant is now forecasting good growth year round. “It is not just a summer product,” she says. “The infused range can be adapted for seasonal use for example we could do a smoky version for Hallowe’en or a cinnamon for Christmas. We have the flexibility to respond to seasonal trends.”
Beetroot is increasingly being used to create sorbets and ice creams. It adds natural colour and intense flavours. Among the companies using this are Yorica! Purbeck Ice Cream and Granny Gothards. Hazel Hartle of Purbeck Ice Cream says: “Beetroot is one of our new flavours of sorbet this year available in a foodservice size for hotels, restaurants and bistros. Beetroot is such a wonderful earthy flavour and is particularly good with any sort of chocolate accompaniment. Consumer reaction has been mixed, with many positive comments received from chefs with flair and imagination. Some that are slightly less visionary can’t quite understand it!”
Chef's delight: Purbeck Ice Cream's beetroot sorbet
Amanda Stansfield owner and managing director of Granny Gothards has taken an unusual taste approach. “We work closely with chefs and one wanted a beetroot and horseradish sorbet…The chef was delighted and used it with goats cheese and fish dishes….We grate the horseradish finely and cook down the beetroot. You get the bite of the horseradish and the sweeter taste of the beetroot at the same time. It is very important to get the balance right between the two. Consumers love the beetroot and horseradish. We supply an ice-cream parlour in Cheddar with it on a regular basis.”
Granny Gothards is also working with Olives Et Al, which has a range of dressings involving beetroot. “One is called Beetroot & Thyme and we created a beetroot and thyme sorbet. Thyme is a very subtle taste, so the beetroot comes through first and then the thyme.”
Founded in 2008, Olives Et Al was an early pioneer of the beetroot resurgence. “When we first experimented with beetroot it was considered, dare we say, rather uncool in the veg world,” explains Giles Henschel founder of the company. “But the earthy flavour and vibrant colour of this underrated British root veg really captured our imagination, inspiring us to develop what’s now one of our best selling dressings.”
Olives Et Al's best-selling beetroot & thyme dressing
The versatility and colour of beetroot are among the key reasons why chefs and food suppliers are increasingly turning to this vegetable, both the leaves and root of which can be eaten. Beetroot leaves have become a common ingredient in salad leaf mixtures, for example and now chefs are increasingly experimenting with different beetroot in dishes of all kinds.
Chef Robbie Gleave from caterer Hickory says: “I like the effect of rawness beetroot gives especially in desserts such as a spicy compote of beetroot and apple. Beetroot makes a very nice winter sorbet with a little bit of red wine and cinnamon that can be served with a salad. Beetroot is great with roast duck, goat’s cheese and with gazpacho. We use a lot of beetroot juice and always put some on our conference menus such as a beetroot and orange juice.”
The Ambrette head chef, Dev Biswal
Dev Biswal, head chef at The Ambrette says: “In many restaurants carpaccio of beetroot is a really popular technique used to introduce bold colours and textures into a dish. It’s perfect for varieties such as golden or Chioggia beetroot. There are also coloured beetroot strings, which can be used as a garnish, created using a spiralizer to add colour. One really innovative way is to make pearls of beetroot – or beetroot caviar – created from puréed beetroot and calcium lactate dropped in a sodium alginate bath. The result is amazing, tiny balls of flavour which burst in the mouth.”
Keen observers of the marketplace have spotted a trend towards spicy rather than a vinegary palate when it comes to beetroot. Duncan Parsonage, head of food development at national foodservice supplier Fresh Direct says: “This reflects the way beetroot is being used. It is a very visual vegetable with varieties such as candy beetroot that looks like a stick of rock being used for garnishing, or golden beetroot grated finely in salads and slaws. Some people use beetroot in breakfast smoothies mixing beetroot with yoghurt, blueberries and limes. Beetroot that has been roasted until tender, then cold smoked works brilliantly alongside rich gamey dishes as does beetroot tartare. I have seen some fiery beetroot marinades and beetroot lends itself to deep frying for use as crisps.”
Another company that has put beetroot at the heart of its product range is The Foraging Fox. Co-founder Frank Fox says says: “As a child I was lucky enough to be taught where food came from, and how to cook, by my parents. I’ve been brought up to believe that you shouldn’t waste good food, you should just become more inventive with it. One year, we had a glut of beetroot and apples. So we started messing around in the kitchen. I knew the kids wouldn’t eat chutney and as beetroot is naturally sweet, as are apples – this made a great combination for making ketchup!”
Since 2014, the concept of beetroot ketchup has taken off significantly. The Foraging Fox has now successfully created a range of ketchups: Original Beetroot, Hot Beetroot and Smoked Beetroot that can be used just like a traditional tomato version.
“We only produce Beetroot ketchup – that’s our sole focus,” says Fox. “It’s very niche but it’s proving to be really successful. Do one thing and do it exceptionally well. It has also helped that people have rediscovered beetroot and it’s a trend that is not just here in the UK. We are exporting to five countries and aim to double that figure in 2017.”
The holy beetroot trinity: Foraging Fox's smoked, original and hot ketchup
The future for beetroot looks extremely promising and with research continuing into its health benefits, it seems likely to be the focus of even more attention. Demand is certainly growing fuelled by chefs using it in innovative ways. According to Cepta Marchant, the market for beetroot among younger consumers has risen from 34% to just under 40% over the last six years. “The perception of beetroot is changing. We anticipate that the market will rise still further.”
Chefs and companies are also intent on developing their useage, constantly looking for new ways to use this vegetable especially in view of its increasing popularity among younger consumers. Beetroot is quite simply becoming fashionable. It has even been used to colour pasta a pretty shade of red, and added to standard dishes such as tzatziki or burritos. With the trend towards the creation of visual salads, the varying shades of beetroot add a decorative as well as nutritional touch. As Henschel concludes: "High in fibre, rich in antioxidants and full of flavour, we truly believe the sky’s the limit when it comes to beetroot.”