London - The pickled variety was a teatime staple for the older generation. These days, beetroot is a culinary must-have — a favourite ingredient of some of the nation’s top chefs that pops up in everything from soups and drinks to crisps, relishes and even desserts.
Recent statistics show that British people spend almost £1 million a week on the stuff.
But that’s not all that beetroot can do. For years, it has been used in natural beauty products because it contains a purple pigment — betalain — which is packed with antioxidants.
Consultant dermatologist Dr Susan Mayou says: ‘The vibrant dye produced by beetroot juice, coupled with the rejuvenating effects of the vegetable’s antioxidants, make it a great component of any homemade beauty products.’
Here, Sarah Chalmers tests the top six recipes recommended by experts for homemade beetroot beauty.
Method: Finely grate a beetroot and squeeze out the juice. Mix a tablespoon of the raw beetroot juice with a tablespoon of soured cream.
The soured cream contains lactic acid, which helps slough off dead skin cells, while the beet will give your skin a rosy glow. Some advocates even claim the beetroot pigment can help reduce age spots. Apply to your face and leave on for 20 minutes, then rinse off.
Result: The mask feels cold and, unfortunately, it also smells of sour milk. However, I am surprised to note that it stays on my face and dries, leaving my skin feeling tight.
Deborah Ward, CEO of natural retailer Nature’s Garden, says: ‘The beetroot should help minimise pores and blemishes by giving them a dose of iron and vitamins.’
I was nervous about the prospect of a permanently red face — but when I wash it off, I am pleased to notice a healthy glow. My skin is a little pinker than normal, but it makes me look more youthful. And, since it is water soluble, I’m glad to say it hasn’t dyed my hairline or my towels.
Verdict: Quick and easy to prepare, I found this mask surprisingly effective.
Method: To make a homemade toner, combine one finely grated beetroot with half-a-cup of chopped cabbage and a quarter-of-a-cup of water in a blender.
Liquidise, transfer the mixture to an ice tray and freeze it in cubes overnight. The result is a tray of bright purple cubes that look like frozen blackcurrant juice.
Rub one cube on your face — the antioxidants in the beetroot will rejuvenate your skin and the betalain will give it a healthy glow. The cabbage will help to minimise blemishes, thanks to a different antioxidant.
Result: I look like Coco the Clown or a little girl who has gone crazy in her mum’s make-up bag, with two bright purple circles on my cheeks.
Dr Mayou, of The Cadogan Clinic, says: ‘The antioxidants in beetroot will mop up free radicals and protect the skin from sun damage and pollution, but you would have to let the toner sit on your face for a long time to see any results.’
It is a cheap natural toner, but I am not sure it is that effective — I can’t see any difference on my complexion. An ordinary ice cube would give the same tingly feeling, and be much less messy.
Verdict: Far too much of a faff for no real difference.
Lip and cheek tint
Method: In a glass bowl, combine half a beetroot, washed and thinly sliced, with two tablespoons of vegetable glycerine (available from the cake-baking aisle of a supermarket for less than £1).
Place the bowl over a pot with 2 in of boiling water, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain the liquid through a sieve, squeezing any excess from the beetroot slices. Allow to cool, then apply to your lips and cheeks.
Result: Using a cotton bud, I dab the liquid on my lips, allowing it to dry, and then repeating three times for a deeper colour. It leaves my lips with a natural-looking stain, and brilliantly has no taste or smell.
While I’m somewhat nervous of using the staining colour on my face, I dab some on the apples of my cheeks and blend outwards.
Lorraine Dallmeier, a biologist and director of The Organic Cosmetic Science School, says: ‘Beetroot produces a great water-soluble red dye, which has been used for centuries in cosmetics.’
Verdict: I love the lip tint — it is not dissimilar to the effect I get from the natural-looking Lip Glow by Dior, and can be combined with a spot of Vaseline for a glossy effect.
The cheek stain works, but is probably best left to confident professionals. You need quite a lot to get strong colour, and then you have to be very careful blending it out so it looks seamless.
Method: Finely grate three medium-sized beetroots and combine with three tablespoons of raw honey and one teaspoon of ground black pepper.
The beetroot will help the outward appearance of your skin and the honey is a humectant, which means it traps moisture, making your skin softer.
Apply the mixture to your problem area, cover it in clingfilm and leave for 30 minutes. Repeat once a week for smooth skin.
Result: Even wrapped in clingfilm, it is incredibly difficult to get the coleslaw-like mixture to stay in place, and the juice drips all down my leg. My bathroom looks like a scene from casualty, and I’m horrified to see spots of lurid, purple juice drip on to my pale-grey bath mat.
Dr Mayou says: ‘Cellulite is a deep fat issue and there’s nothing in the beetroot that would penetrate the dermis. I don’t even think it would be sufficiently moisturising to make a surface difference.’
My skin does feel smoother afterwards, but the mess is pretty unbearable — I had to hose down and scrub my bath before scooping out the mixture! (Thankfully the stain came out of the bath mat.)
Verdict: It would need to give me thighs like Cara Delevingne to justify all the mess. It didn’t.
Luscious lip scrub
Method: Remove the greens and root of two small beetroots. Wash and dice the beets, then place in a saucepan with a cup of water. Bring to the boil and gently simmer for two minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the liquid through a sieve.
When cooled, mix one tablespoon of cold-pressed coconut oil, a teaspoon of honey, five tablespoons of white sugar and one teaspoon of brown sugar to form a paste. Add one tablespoon of beetroot liquid to the paste and refrigerate in a glass jar.
Result: I worked a small amount of the scrub across my lips, letting the grainy texture gently exfoliate them before washing off with warm water.
Dr Mayou says: ‘It’s the sugars here that are working to exfoliate the skin, while the beetroot will give a nice tinge.’
My lips feel smooth and hydrated and they also smell and taste lovely — thanks to the coconut and honey!
Verdict: You can’t beat this for a natural effective product, with just a hint of tint. It looks and tastes so yummy you could transfer it to small clean jars and give as a gift. It can be stored for two weeks in the fridge.