I was first asked about beet juice on a Wednesday night during a staff meeting for the NewEnglander. We were going around the room, bantering, sharing our progress on articles we were writing and ideas for pieces to come. I was sitting where I always sit, in one of the big, spinny office chairs in the corner of the room, clowning around with my dear friend and fellow reporter, Sam Weekley. When our faculty advisor, William Homestead, brought up the juice.
I’ve apparently created a bit of a reputation for myself in the newsroom this semester for eating foods that I know I’m not going to like for little to no reward, aside from the sweet, sweet attention I get from the people who read my articles. My mom says I’m a masochist, I say I’m an artist. Regardless, because of my willingness, nay my eagerness, to subject my tired tastebuds to the extreme, Homestead thought of me when he purchased the beet juice for himself and discovered it to be rather difficult to consume.
“It’s really very healthy,” he informed me, “but it is really,” as he shook his head, “hard to drink.” He told me that it was pure, organic beet juice, and that, should I choose to accept, he wanted me to write an article on A.) the health benefits of beet juice, and B.) my own experience with the beet juice.
Obviously I’m not a coward, so I accepted.
I had only tried beets once before going into this. I was fourteen years of age, I had just recently decided to go vegetarian, and my family was doing everything they could to be supportive. They often bought different meat substitutes to try out, like Quorn Chicken (which is a meatless chicken substitute that, contrary to what the name might have you believe, is NOT made of corn, but actually made out of the Fusarium venenatum fungus, and is derived from fermentation…sort of like a kombucha, but that’s beside the point) and vegetable based pepperonis. My father also started bringing home these large crates of random vegetables (I’m not sure where they were coming from, I want to say a farmers market, but honestly I have no idea) to supplement our family meals, and from one of these crates came the first, up to this point last, beets I’d ever met.
I always partially hacked it up to preparation. I have this little theory that the people on my dad’s side of the family don’t really have tastebuds at all. My aunt and my grandmother only eat bland food like grilled chicken and potatoes, while my father will often just throw random ingredients together in combinations that don’t quite make sense (he once made a dinner cheesecake, which is sort of a good idea in theory…sort of like a quiche, but the execution was just ludicrous, it was like a regular cheesecake, but with smoked salmon and other savory bits inside, and the crust was made out of bagel chips. I like to go back to this incident when I’m really trying to explain my father’s kitchen skills to someone). He stir-fried the beets together with some kale (this was also the only time I’ve ever eaten kale). Now if you aren’t familiar with the flavor profiles of beets or kale, then maybe you won’t understand why this was such a bad idea, but basically they both have very intense, strong flavors. Kale is very bitter and beets are really sweet (but in a way that kind of tastes like dirt), so putting them together with no other ingredients is sort of a weird idea. Suffice to say I thought it was pretty darn gross, and I had no intention of trying either of those vegetables ever again.
But a challenge is a challenge so I told Homestead to bring it on, and as promised he brought the beet juice to class for me.
Upon opening the beet juice I could smell the nitrates, the betalains, the carotenoids, the ascorbic acid, and the phenolics. And they did not smell good. It is hard to describe, a complex smell. It has a sweetness that pinches the nose, and nearly brings tears to the eyes with its magnitude, like a bad air freshener sprayed in a closed off room with little to no air circulation. But under that there is a smell like dark brown soil in the late spring, rich with worms, and damp from an evening drizzle. It was a smell that startled me so much that I spilled a few drops of the juice on the floor of the NewEnglander office, that will forever stain the white tile. I handed the juice over to Sam. The smell itself was strong enough to make her gag.
Next, I took a sip. Based on the smell, the flavor is no surprise. Upon first sip, I determined that it is…”drinkable,” but alas, this confidence would soon be my downfall, as I set out to finish the bottle, I would soon see that while one sip is “drinkable,” many sips would be…unthinkable.
Let us diverge from my story for just a second to educate ourselves on all the health benefits associated with the consumption of the beet juice, for there is a multitude, many of which I would consider to be too good to be true, despite reputable sources: Clifford, et al. “The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 14 Apr. 2015, and Zelman, Kathleen M. “The Truth About Beet Juice.” WebMD, WebMD, 5 Apr. 2014.
First and foremost the beetroot juice is a hearty source of nitrates. “What are nitrates good for?” I here you ask from behind the screen. Allow me to elaborate: Nitrates on their own aren’t really good for anything, however the human body is a magical thing, and the bacteria in the mouth and the enzymes in the body can help turn those nitrates into nitrites, which can further become nitric oxide (not to be confused with nitrous oxide, which they give you at the dentist when you are going to get your wisdom teeth pulled). Nitric Oxide is a vasodilator, which means that it helps to relax the inner muscles of your blood vessels which allows them to widen. This allows an increase in blood circulation, which is why beet juice has been linked to lowering both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, increasing exercise stamina, and helping to increase muscle power in people who experience heart failure.
But that’s not all! Beet juice also contains betaine pigments, which are what give the beets their deep red color. According to my research, these things might be magic. These have been shown to be linked with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and get this, chemo-resistant activity in the body. In layman’s terms this means that the stuff that gives beets their pigment may also help with oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, arthritis, and possibly even cancer (to be clear this isn’t me endorsing the consumption of beet juice in place of seeking medical treatments for cancer, I am just saying that some research has shown that Betalaines may be “free radical scavengers,” which would mean that they help to find and destroy unstable cells in the body, like cancer cells, and if that is true than that is pretty nifty).
Furthermore, beet juice is also a great source of all sorts of other miscellaneous vitamins and minerals that help keep your body functioning the way it ought to. Such as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, sodium, zinc, copper, Selenium, and Vitamin C.
But here is the big question: is it all worth it? If you ask me, absolutely not. This stuff is straight up NastyTM. In order to really truly reap these benefits from beet juice you have to drink roughly eight ounces of it a day. That’s about a full glass. When I said that it was “drinkable,” I had about a sip and a half, maybe. But I was given a full bottle for this piece and my goal was to drink that whole thing. I was delusional.
I sat down with a full glass and I couldn’t even get through half of it. The taste is so strong, and the more you drink it the more it builds. You would think that eventually your tongue would numb from the taste, but it doesn’t. The more you sip the more painful it gets, the more shocking each subsequent sip is to the senses. I am sorry to say readers, I couldn’t do it. I tried to buckle down, but it was just too much for me. Perhaps those more willful than I are capable of choking down this juice, and for that I can only commend you, and envy your superhuman health. But for now I will remain vitamin deficient, if it means I don’t have to think about that juice again.