grated striped beetroot

The Secret to Non-Earthy Beetroots

For a long time, beetroots were one of the few foods I tried to stay clear of. I’ve never enjoyed eating the pure, basic boiled vegetable. Its earthiness put me off.

Until, I found out that, by tweaking just exactly how you prepare your beetroots, you can actually eliminate a lot of their earthiness!

Ever since, I’ve enjoyed beetroots. Whether it’s beetroot falafel, roasted beetroots, or even beetroot red velvet cake.

Geosmin makes beetroots earthy

It turns out, that earthy flavor isn’t something I imagined. It’s been described quite extensively by chemists. A main culprit? The molecule geosmin. This is an incredibly potent molecule, even a small amount can be detected by us humans and it’s to a large extent responsible for the earthy tones of beetroots.

Geosmin isn’t unique to beets. You can also find it in forest soil, after a period of rainfall. Hence, the ‘earthiness’. Wines can also contain geosmin, where it’s generally made by undesirable microorganisms. However, in the case of beetroots, the geosmin is actually produced by the beets themselves, and is a natural part of their being.

beetroots
Earthy, raw beetroots

Reducing beetroot’s earthiness

The best strategy to reduce earthiness seems to be to hide the earthy flavor, geosmin is quite stable.

Acid hides geosmin

When pickling beetroots, you’re adding acid to the beet. This acid can provide a more balanced flavor profile of the beetroot, making it taste less earthy. A positive side-effect is that the acid also helps preserve the beetroot’s bright red color.

Peel the beetroots

The peel of the beetroots contains relatively higher contents of geosmin than the inside of the beetroot does. As such, peeling the beetroot will reduce its earthiness.

Roasting reduces earthiness

Boiling beetroots can reduce the earthiness of beetroots. The heat may break down some of the flavor molecules, or they might leach out.

A more effective method though, is to roast the beetroots. When roasting beetroots you’re initiating a wide range of chemical reactions, such as the Maillard reaction. During these reactions a lot of other strong flavor molecules and aromas are formed. These can overpower the earthy tones of the beetroot, in a good way.

Frying ‘extracts’ geosmin

Interestingly, very little research has been done on the impact of preparation methods on the earthiness of beetroots. However, for wines, where it has the potential to spoil large batches, more work has been done.

One way to remove the geosmin in that case was through extraction. By mixing the wine with oil, and then separating the two the geosmin would transfer from the wine, into the oil.

Personally, I found that deep-fried beetroot falafel doesn’t taste earthy at all. It’s quite possible that I’ve effectively extracted just enough of the geosmine into the oil, to remove the earthy flavor. Of course, during deep frying the Maillard reaction takes place as well, so again a lot more flavor molecules have been formed which can help to hide the earthy undertones.

Choosing a low-geosmin variety

Not every type of beetroot contains the same amount of geosmin. Some naturally contain more than others. Manufacturers of beetroot colorants may decide to use only those red beets that contain a relatively small amount of geosmin to limit off flavors. Most consumers want their food coloring to give color, not flavor.

Non-earthy beetroots preparation methods

Despite there being so little evidence in the literature for the best way to reduce the earthiness of beetroots, out of personal experience, I’ve learned that roasting and frying are great ways to do so, with pickling at a slightly distant second spot. The beetroot falafel recipe below is a surefire way to make a delicious non-earthy dish!

beetroot falafel

Non-Earthy Beetroot Falafel

Using beetroots to make a variety of falafel is a great way to use even the most earthy beetroot, without the final product tasting earthy. The spices as well as the frying process itself seem to remove and/or hide the geosmin molecule aroma!

Ingredients

  • 450g beetroot (approx. 2 beetroots) - cleaned and peeled
  • 100g parsnips (or other root vegetable) 0 cleaned and peeled
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 200g chickpea flour
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying

Instructions

  1. Grate the beetroot and parsnips. Use a grater with medium sized holes. Add the grated vegetables to a big bowl with plenty of space for mixing.grated striped beetroot
  2. Gently pound the cumin seeds and coriander seeds to break them down slightly. Add them to the 1 tbsp of oil and roast them over a high heat until they start to brown and you can clearly smell them.
  3. Mix in the other spices and chickpea flour. Gently knead the mixture and try to form balls. Initially it might feel too dry, however, as you knead and slightly crush the vegetables by hand, they'll release some more moisture, so try not to add any additional water. The dough should be firm enough to hold together into bite sized balls.
  4. Shape into approx. 15 balls.raw beetroot falafel dough
  5. To deep fry the beetroot falafel you can use your preferred equipment for deep frying. You can do so in a deep fryer, or wok for instance. Ensure that there is enough oil to at least just cover the beetroot falafel balls.
  6. Heat the oil to 180°C (355°F). Carefully add as much falafel as fit into your pan. Do not overcrowd it, or the oil will cool down too much. Continue frying at 180°C (355°F) until the falafel have turned a light brown color. Turn every few minutes to ensure even browning and cooking on both sides. Take a tester from your first batch and break it in half. If it's cooked through, with no more raw vegetables inside, it's good to go!
  7. Take the balls from the oil and leave to cool down slightly on a paper towel.

References

Aarika Chilson, Hate Beets? Science May Have the Answer Why, Just Beet It, June 1, 2021

Lisanti, Maria Tiziana & Gambuti, Angelita & Genovese, Alessandro & Piombino, Paola & Moio, Luigi. (2014). Earthy off-flavour in wine: Evaluation of remedial treatments for geosmin contamination. Food Chemistry. 154. 171–178. 10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.12.100.

BETHANY CLAIRE RICHARDSON, IDENTIFICATION AND CHARACTERIZATION OF POTENT ODORANTS IN SELECTED BEET ROOT (BETA VULGARIS) PRODUCTS, Thesis, 2013, link

Dhrubo Jyoti Sen, Moist earth smelling geosmin as a terpene bicycic alcohol, World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, Volume 5, Issue 8, 01-08. 2016

Tyler, Lucia & Acree, Terry & SMITH, NANCY. (2006). Sensory evaluation of geosmin in juice made from cooked beets. Journal of Food Science. 44. 79 – 81. 10.1111/j.1365-2621.1979.tb10009.x.

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