Beets are a highly versatile and useful vegetable that have been eaten and enjoyed by human beings since the beginning of recorded history. Many different cultivars exist such as the beetroot, which is eaten as a root vegetable; the sugar beet, which is used in the production of sugar; and the chard or spinach beet, which is grown for tasty, nutritious greens. For beets to maintain their taste, quality, and value it is important that they be properly cooled after harvest. In this article we’ll take a look at some key beet-related facts as well as cooling and storage considerations and effective methods.
General Facts About Beets
Beets belong to the species Beta vulgaris, with all the various cultivars of beets existing as subspecies or varieties. Domesticated beets are descended from a wild ancestor, the sea beet, which originated in the Mediterranean, Atlantic coast, and Indian regions. Beets have been an important part of traditional diets and medicine in their native regions for thousands of years, with writers including Aristotle and Hippocrates mentioning beets in their texts.
Chard, also known as spinach beet, Swiss chard, seakale beet, mangold, as well as by many other names, is grown for its highly nutritious leafy greens and is considered one of the most healthful vegetables. Beetroots are served hot and buttered as a delicacy, pickled and served cold as a condiment, or shredded and eaten in salads. Their juice is also enjoyed in beverages or used as food coloring. Meanwhile sugar beets fill an extremely important economical role by supplying about 20% of the world’s sugar supply, typically in colder, temperate regions where the world’s other major sugar-producing crop, sugarcane, cannot grow.
General Information about Cooling and Storing Beets
The correct cooling and storage method for beets depends somewhat on the beet cultivar as well as its intended use. Beets are typically harvested in bunches, with their green tops left on, or alternatively they are topped, with the greens removed and only the beetroot remaining. Bunched beets are usually harvested earlier while the greens are fresher and in better condition, by contrast topped beets are often harvested later in their life cycle since it is the root alone that is important. What follows are some key cooling and storage considerations.
Precooling – Bunched beets should be precooled within at least 4 to 6 hours of harvesting to retard the respiration and decay rates of the beets. Since much of this respiration takes place through the leaves, beets that have been topped do not need as rapid precooling as those with the tops still intact. However, even the topped root should still be precooled within at least 24 hours of harvest.
Temperature – Bunched beets should be stored at a temperature of about 32°F. However, topped beets should be stored at slightly higher temperatures, about 33°F to 36°F. That is because at lower temperatures the topped roots may be subject to developing rot and black spots.
Relative Humidity – Both bunched and topped beets require a high relative humidity. Relative humidity should be about 98%-100% in order to prevent the vegetables from losing moisture and thus shriveling.
Shelf Life – Bunched beets have a shelf life of about 10 days to 14 days. Meanwhile, topped beets have a much longer shelf life since the root is less susceptible to rapid decay than the leaves. Topped beats have a shelf life of about 4 months to 6 months, but under optimal conditions may even last as long as 8 months to 10 months. Beetroots may also be processed and canned, dramatically extending their shelf life.
Methods of Cooling Beets
Forced-Air Cooling – Forced-air cooling, which involves using fans to draw cooled air around the beets for more rapid, thorough cooling is a very popular means of cooling bunched beets. However, it is not as often employed for topped beets since there is a risk of moisture loss and the topped beets also do not require as low storage temperatures.
Hydrocooling – Hydrocooling involves rapidly submerging the beets in near freezing water. This is a very effective way of quickly lowering the beets’ temperature and is commonly used as a precooling method for both bunched and topped beets.
Packing Ice – Packing ice involves surrounding the beets by ice and is a very effective way of directly lowering their temperature. This method may be employed for either bunched or topped beets.
Semco is an industry leader in industrial cooling and storage equipment and systems. We have the resources, expertise, and experience necessary to design and supply cooling equipment ideal for use with beets. We will also work closely with each of clients to ensure that their particular capacity and other demands are met.