Pass a packet of wine gums around, and everyone takes the red one. Confectioners know that colour sells – it always has, long before sweets were invented. Cherries, raspberries, blackcurrants and grapes have always been irresistible.

But, if Mother Nature made healthy foods red in order to encourage us to eat more of them, where did she go wrong with beetroot? One glimpse of it haemorrhaging its juice over the hard-boiled egg and iceberg lettuce in a salad is enough to make most people sick. Most of us swore undying hate for it after that first vinegary bite. Did they pickle it because they couldn’t sell it? I swear the same pack has been sitting on the shelf in our local greengrocer for three years.

Beetroot is just a bit too red for its own good; deeply, overpoweringly red. “Far too bossy a vegetable” was cookery writer Jane Grigson’s description (the best ever). Its colour pushes itself embarrassingly everywhere. Even into your pee. Why eat it, then? Because it is good for you, obviously.

I don’t want to use the term “superfood”. Superfoods were invented to feed an obsession with finding a miracle cure for cancer. More than anything we want to believe that eating a single fruit or vegetable containing a certain chemical will zap a diseased cell. But it isn’t that simple. New European guidelines are about to ban the word superfood as a selling pitch, unless it is backed up with science. The new rules come as something of a relief because it will force food manufacturers to pay for proper independent research – and to tell the truth.

The unusually high nitrate level in beetroot apparently helps reduce blood pressure as successfully as clinical drugs. Doctors at Bart’s and Royal London Hospital spent 10 years studying the effect of nitrates on our bodies and have found that, once swallowed, it produces nitric oxide. “This is a very powerful substance which is continually made by our blood vessels to keep our blood pressure low,” says Professor Ben Benjamin, a member of the research team. ”It is also made in large quantities by white cells in our bloodstream to fight infection.”

Roasted Beetroot with Buffalo Mozzarella 03 September 2009

This is great news for the one in three adults reported to have high blood pressure. You won’t have to take pills all your life. You can take beetroot instead. But relax – in spite of its dreadful colour, beetroot is perfectly capable of tasting delicious. Lawrence Mallinson, who makes the delightful James White pressed apple juices in Suffolk, has found a way with a new organic beetroot juice, Beet It.

“It is a complicated process,” he says. “Unlike apples, beetroots are very alkaline and it is hard to stabilise [their flavour]. So we put a part of the juice through lacto-fermentation, then add it back to fresh beetroot juice and mix in 10 per cent apple juice to soften the earthy flavour.” The result is actually very good; sweet and fruity with none of the ferrous overtones one associates with past pickled horrors.

“I hate beetroot,” says Mallinson. “We ate pickled beetroot as children and my stomach still tells me not to drink as I raise the glass. But I have found the juice very different and I genuinely like it now.” Mallinson was contacted by scientists asking for juice to use in their trials. So convincing were their revelations, he now finds himself sitting on a gold mine. (His other best-seller is Big Tom, a spiced tomato juice and an essential component part in another reliable cure.) Beet It is presently made in Germany, but Mallinson has applied for a licence to make it in Britain, and has planted a field of beet in Suffolk that will crop this autumn.

The lesson in all this is that colour is irrelevant. All fruit and vegetables are good for you, and there is still debate over which ones do the most. What I would like to know is why a packet of sweets contains fewer red ones and lots of unpopular green ones. Is this a ruse to make us buy more, or just a cruel confectioners’ plot to make children squabble on long car journeys?