How to Cook Red Beets That Are Not Bitter


Beets have a bitter bite best bridled by a blend of blanching, buttering and baking. Although not as bitter as their greens, beetroots have a hint of bitterness in the background, hiding behind the woodsy, earthy flavor that graces the palate first. Most of beets' flavor comes from geosmin, affectionately referred to as the earth's perfume, which, along with a few other compounds, contributes a slight bitter taste. Geosmin breaks down in the presence of acid, so a little lemon in the blanching water, in combination with caramelized butter solids and roasting temperatures, relieves beets of any detectable bitterness.

Things You'll Need

  • Paring knife
  • Vegetable peeler (optional)
  • Pot
  • Lemon
  • Slotted spoon
  • Food-storage container
  • Paper towels
  • Shallow dish
  • Kosher salt
  • Oil
  • Heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan
  • Fresh herbs (optional)
  • Rinse the beets and trim off the bitter leafy tops, reserving them for another use. Trim the blossom, or stem, end and the root end from the beets.

  • Trim the skin before roasting the beets using a vegetable peeler or paring knife. You have to remove the bitter enzymes in the flesh before and during cooking, which the skin impedes.

  • Bring a pot of water with the juice of one lemon in it to a boil and place the beets in it. Blanch the beets for 30 seconds after the water returns to a boil. Scoop the beets out of the pot with a slotted spoon and place them in a food-storage container of ice water to cool them down.

  • Remove the beets from the ice water and place them in paper towels to drain. Pat the beets all over with paper towels to dry them and cut the beets in half or into other desired shapes for roasting. Cutting the beets increases their surface area, which gives the bitter elements more avenue for release.

  • Place the beets in a shallow dish and liberally sprinkle them with kosher salt. Sodium pulls moisture out of the beets, taking some of the bitter compounds with it. It does, however, also season the beets, so you don't have to season them again. Place the beets in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes.

  • Remove the beets and rinse the salt and moisture from them. Let the beets air dry or pat them dry with paper towels. Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Searing the beets produces a Maillard reaction, or the process responsible for the golden-brown, caramelized color on foods. Although searing is commonly associated with meats, the sugars in beets caramelize readily and produce a smoky, nutty flavor that negates any bitterness near their surface.

  • Place the beets in the pan cut side down and sear them on all sides until golden brown, about four or five minutes total. Transfer the beets to a shallow baking dish and drizzle them with oil. Place the beets in the oven.

  • Roast the beets until they pierce easily with a paring knife, between 30 minutes and one hour depending how small you cut them.

  • Taste the beets and season them to taste. Add fresh herbs while the beets are still hot so the oil and heat work together to release their essential oils.

Tips & Warnings

  • Choose firm beets uniform in shape. Irregular shapes indicate the beets bolted during growth, or flowered and seeded prematurely, which causes a bitter, woody taste.
  • You can also add beets to a braise. The moist heat combined with the other flavors in the braised dish masks and softens the beets' bitter bite.
  • You can use the leafy tops up to two days after you trim them.

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