Tasting Beets and Borscht in Ukraine

Oct 2018

Beets are a bit of a lightning rod. Tastebuds will either fall madly in love or stop dead in their tracks and do a U- turn. Food always offers the opportunity to dig into a new destination when traveling. Can a pot of soup unlock the cultural secrets of a country? Can the flavor of a root vegetable give insight to a new destination?  I was game to find out while tasting beets and borscht in Ukraine.


Strong, earthy and filled with vitamins and minerals (follate and manganese and more), beets have always been one of my favorite foods. Some nutritionists even call it crimson spinach because of high levels of iron. On a trip to Ukraine with JayWay Travel, I challenged myself to find the tasty beets on as many menus as possible. The country did not disappoint.

Borscht in Ukraine

Traditional Ukrainian Borscht in Kiev

There has long been a struggle between Ukraine and its bordering neighbors for claim to dishes that are famous throughout the region. Borscht is one such dish, but research finds its strongest association can be found with Ukraine. It is thought to have originated there as early as the 14th century. Such a tough and hearty soup stands strong and in sync with the people who lay claim to this magenta symbol of culinary prowess.

Tasting beets and borscht in Ukraine

Lardo, mustard and beet spread with country bread in traditional Ukraine restaurant

In its many forms, both meaty or vegetarian, borscht remains a hearty dish. A citizen’s wealth was measured by the amount of meat included in the borscht served to guests. Long dreary winters took advantage of this root vegetable that lasted for months in cold storage. While the soup was a form of sustenance, it was also a cultural icon. The many varieties around the county attest to the longevity of the dish, further contributing to the role it played as a cultural icon and piece national heritage.

Cold Borscht in L'viv

Have you ever seen a more beautiful presentation of cold borscht? An ice bowl decorated with herbs and lemon used as service in L’viv.

411 on Beets and Borscht in Ukraine and Elsewhere:

• Beets can be dated all the way back to at least 800 BC when, according to an Assyrian text, they were growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In ancient times, only the iron rich beet greens were eaten, not the roots.

• The beets used by the ancient Greeks and Romans were not red, but either black or white.

• Traditional Kiev Borscht is made with bacon and beans

• With a nod to Adam and Eve, the ancient Romans regarded beet juice as an aphrodisiac. In many cultures, it is still believed that all a man and woman have to do to fall in love is eat from the same beetroot.

• Eaten raw, beets have a crunch much like apples.

•Until the 19th century, the main ingredients of borscht were: beets, cabbage, meat (beef or chicken), onions, carrots and herbs. When potatoes became available, they were added to the soup by cutting into cubes. Later tomatoes were sometimes added as well.

tasting beets and borscht in Ukraine

• Red beets get their color from the vegetable’s red betalain pigments which are the same pigments that gives the flower, bougainvillea its deep red color. Our bodies can not digest the betalin, insuring you’ll see red until it is all removed from your system the following day.

• Beet juice has been used as a natural red dye, including hair dye, for several centuries.

• Beetroot juice can be used to measure whether or not a solution is acidic. An acidic solution will turn pink when beet juice is added, but an alkaline solution will turn yellow.

• A cup of beets contains 75 calories. While beets are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other health-promoting nutrients, they also have the highest sugar content of any vegetable.

Ukraine hummus selection

Traditional hummus, red pepper, cilantro and the crowd pleasing beet flavor in L’viv

During my JayWay trip, we had to fight each other for the last drops of the beet hummus we had in L’viv. Tastebuds were universally delighted by the dish. JayWay specializes in small group trips to Eastern Europe. Their on the ground specialists have their finger on the pulse of the tastiest restaurants in each destination. Great food is one of the many perks of working with a boutique agency that knows their way around the culinary scene giving you the best of traditional flavors and chefs updating recipes with modern flair.

Beets and borscht in Ukraine

Sweets flavored and colored with beets in Kiev.

It was not until fairly recently that I discovered how versatile they are as an ingredient. Here are some fun ways to incorporate the flavors of beets and borscht in Ukraine into your diet. Don’t forget that a true, natural red velvet cake gets its rich color from beets.

When looking for that beet flavor in the US, Beetology has a range of juices and ready cooked beets to make life super easy. All are organic and fair trade, all natural ingredients and non GMO. The juices make a dandy cocktail. My favorite is the beet and berry flavor. Try using their shredded beets in my beet burger. It’s a revelation!

beet juice flavors

Try them raw and chopped for a wonderful crunch in salad. If you love beets like I do, any of the recipes below will be a delight. If you’re a bit more skeptical, try the cheesecake or hummus for a palate pleaser.

10 Recipes to Capture the Flavor of Beets and Borscht in Ukraine

Beet smoothie, golden beet and cauliflower soup

Vanilla Strawberry Beet Smoothie by Blender Happy

Golden Beet And Cauliflower Soup by Catching Seeds

Roasted beet hummus and rosemary sea salt beet chips

Roasted Beet Hummus  by Salt And Lavender

Rosemary Sea Salt And Vinegar Beet Chips by Running To The Kitchen

Beet pesto pizza and golden beet frittata

Beet Pesto Pizza With Goat Cheese And Kale by Live Eat Learn

Swiss Chard And Golden Beet Frittata by Healthy Nibbles And Bits

Chocolate beetroot cheesecake and chocolate beet donuts

Raw Chocolate Beet Cheesecake by Unconventional Baker

Baked Double Chocolate Beet Donuts by Catching Seeds

Roasted autumn vegetables and colorful beet salad

Colorful Beet Salad With Carrot, Quinoa and Spinachby Cookie And Kate

Autumn Roasted Vegetables With Feta by Zesty Olive

Pin Me ♥ Delicious Recipes with Beets and Borscht

beet recipes pin

Pin Me ♥ Tasting Beets and Borscht in Ukrainebeets and borscht in Ukraine

Disclaimer: The author was hosted during her time in Ukraine by JayWay Travel. Tasting Beets and Borscht in Ukraine represents her own experiences and opinions. 

  1. Indeed, Alison. We Ukrainians love our beets, and especially love our borscht. I love beets served pretty much any way.

  2. I love beets and really enjoyed learning about the many different ways the Ukrainians have to serve them! Very interesting article!

    • alison says:

      The walnut and beet pate in the feature photo was a revelation. Have to figure out how to make it. Thanks for reading Marilyn. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. It is so true what you say about the love-hate relationship people have with beets and borscht. While I love them, my wife does not. Of course, we never realized they were prepared in so many ways.

    • alison says:

      I’ve been on a mission to incorporate veggies into all kinds of recipes. Beets are a great ingredient. Let me know if you try any of the ones listed. We have to get your wife on the beet train!

  4. Even though I’ve only recently begun to enjoy beets, I can’t seem to get enough of them! I very rarely have the opportunity to eat borscht but I will absolutely take the next chance I get. What a hearty dish with such a rich history.

  5. Tom Bartel says:

    I do love beets, and so enjoyed getting the real deal when I sampled real Borscht in Russia earlier this year. There sure are a lot more to them than that jellied canned stuff I grew up with.

    • alison says:

      Scary how much of that canned stuff we ate growing up and how wonderful we can get so much fresh all the time now. That was one of the biggest surprises in Ukraine. Fresh delicious salads and vegetables at every meal. I was not expecting that. And a fresh sprig of dill on just about everything! Tasting the real deal in Russia must have been great too.

  6. I never knew so much about beets. Great historical context here. And if you’re going to indulge in beets, Ukraine is the place to do so. I love your photography, too.

    • alison says:

      Hi Pamela. Thanks for visiting and welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about beets. I’m happy to eat them anywhere, but in Ukraine I especially loved indulging.