The Badger Flame Beet
A new variety will convert the haters.
Horticulturalist Irwin Goldman PhD’91 doesn’t beet around the bush when it comes to root vegetables. His research at the UW revolves around a medley of carrots, onions, and the divisive table beet. As Goldman has seen time and again, people either appreciate the distinct earthiness of a traditional beet, or they walk away with wrinkled noses muttering something about dirt. So Goldman, his colleague Nick Breitbach, and a team of graduate students in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences set about breeding a better beet.
After nearly 20 growing seasons, the UW offers the world the Badger Flame beet — a sweet, crunchy, oblong bulb that one would happily eat raw, with no pickling liquid or caramelization necessary. “I call it the slowest of the performing arts — plant breeding,” says Goldman. “It takes a very long time, but it’s very rewarding.”
The process was, indeed, both artistic and scientific. Through years of testing crops by subjective taste, selecting away from the earthy flavor gene, and crossing new batches with sweeter and more colorful varieties, the team developed beets that would please any picky eater’s palate, in an array of colors that would beautifully adorn any painter’s palette.
The old-fashioned beet is undergoing a renaissance, and Goldman’s research, seeded by the UW and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, is at the forefront of bringing the beet into the new age. His team has championed Wisconsin’s top spot in traditional table beet production and delivered breakthrough beet varieties to supermarkets and restaurants across the nation.
“I felt some guilt, honestly,” admits Goldman, “because we were de-beeting the beet.”
At the same time, he’s glad to support Wisconsin’s beet farmers, gardeners, and chefs with the best-bred beets. And he’s happy to help people not only eat their veggies but also enjoy them.
Published in the Summer 2023 issue