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Crapaudine beetroots grow deep into the ground, their edible, leafy tops have a dark mulberry color that is very distinct. The beetroot itself has a unique elongated and tapered shape like a carrot, with a dark, almost black, bark-like skin. The appearance of occasional rootlets or gnarled bumps are not unusual. Crapaudine beetroots take two years to fully develop, so the tough skin acts as protection during the cold seasons. The flesh is a deep maroon color, with concentric pale rings that are revealed when the root is sliced crosswise. The heirloom beetroot has a strong earthy taste, and a sweetness that lends itself well to both savory dishes as well as desserts.
Crapaudine beetroot can be produced year-round with a peak season in the late fall and winter months.
Crapaudine beetroot is likely the oldest of the beet varieties, with records dating back over 1,000 years. A true ‘heirloom’, the Crapaudine beetroot is a biennial (requiring two years to reach maturity), and is scientifically classified as Beta vulgaris var. crassa. In France, where the heirloom tuber gained its common name, it is called Betterave Crapaudine or ‘Rouge Crapaudine’. In English, the name means “female toad,” likely because of the beet's bumpy, rough appearance.
Crapaudine beetroot is a good source of folates and antioxidants. Beets contain betanin, which is a phytonutrient that gives the beets their deep pigment, and acts as an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and detoxifier. Beets contain vitamins C and B6, as well as high levels of potassium, manganese and fiber. According to nutritional sources, 10-15% of adults experience beeturia, a reddening of the urine, after eating a regular serving of beets. Beeturia can be sign of iron deficiency or imbalance, and individuals with a normal iron metabolism are less likely to experience beeturia.
Crapaudine beetroot can be used much like any other variety of beet, with the addition of sweet applications to the typical savory ones. To prepare, it is recommended that the tuber be covered in foil and roasted before peeling, to make the process easier. By keeping the roasting or baking time to a minimum of an hour, the health benefits are increased. The dark flesh of the Crapaudine beetroot can stain the fingers, so gloves are recommended when preparing the beets. Once roasted Crapaudine beetroot can be pureed for use as-is or for sauces. Combine roasted, sliced Crapaudine beetroot with a yellow-colored beet and soft cheese like burrata or mozzarella for a colorful beet stack. Mix roasted and sliced Crapaudine beetroot with sautéed red cabbage for a side dish. Cut the beetroot into chunks and add to green salads with other bright seasonal colors like tangerines or pears. Crapaudine beetroot will store in a cool, dry place for several months. Once prepared, the root can be frozen for up to two months.
In England’s North Yorkshire, the Crapaudine beetroot is a major feature on the menu at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Black Swan. The beet variety is one of the main ingredients grown in the 2.5 acre farm behind the restaurant and pub. The Black Swan’s chef purees the Crapaudine beetroot and serves it with pigeon, spelt and a pickled version of the heirloom beet. The Black Swan’s garden produces more beetroot than is needed for the restaurant, so a local produce company acts as distributor, bringing the Crapaudine beetroot to other restaurants around the United Kingdom.
Crapaudine beetroots are native to what is now France, and have been a presence in European kitchens since around the time of the Emperor Charlemagne, around the 9th century. Crapaudine beetroot was not available in the United States until the 1860s when a seed catalog listed it among its offerings. Beets are typically considered to be an environmentally friendly crop because they don’t require pesticides. They grow well in cooler climates and can even overwinter in regions where snow covers the ground. Crapaudine beetroot is most often found in markets throughout Europe, and is available through seed companies for home gardeners and small farms.
Recipes that include Crapaudine Beetroots. One is easiest, three is harder.