Classic Harvard Beets

Harvard beets recipe in a bowl

The Spruce Eats

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 60 mins
Total: 65 mins
Servings: 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
160 Calories
6g Fat
27g Carbs
1g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 160
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 7%
Saturated Fat 4g 18%
Cholesterol 15mg 5%
Sodium 125mg 5%
Total Carbohydrate 27g 10%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 25g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 1mg 6%
Calcium 9mg 1%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 114mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Harvard beets is a classic dish that has been around for generations, but the origin of the name is still in question. One story is that this beet dish was so-called for its deep crimson hue, which was officially designated Harvard University's color in 1910. The other explanation is that this recipe was invented in a tavern in England named "Harwood," and over time and some American mispronunciations, the name morphed into Harvard.

No matter the history of their name, these classic Harvard beets are delicious. The beets are sliced and cooked in a sweet and sour sauce made with vinegar and sugar. This recipe begins with fresh beets that you will need to cook, peel, and slice.

Harvard beets go well as a side dish with steak, pork chops, or chicken. They lend color to the plate as well as great flavor. But another way to prepare the beets is to chill them and serve them with salad, which is a way to get a couple of meals out of leftovers.


  • 3 medium whole beets, about 1 pound, or 4 cups cooked, sliced beets

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 3 teaspoons cornstarch

  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar

  • 1/3 cup water

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for Harvard beets recipe gathered

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  2. To make with fresh beets, wash the beets and leave an inch of stem and root end on them.

    Washed and trimmed beets in a wooden bowl

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  3. Put the beets in a saucepan, cover with water, and add about 1 teaspoon of salt per quart of water and bring the water to a boil.

    Beets in a saucepan with water

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  4. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and boil for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the beets are tender.

    Beets simmering in a pot

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  5. Drain the beets and let them cool.

    Drained beets in a colander, cooling

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  6. Then slip off the skins.

    Peeled beets in a white bowl

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  7. Slice the beets to your desired size.

    Beets sliced in a white bowl

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  8. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan.

    Sugar and cornstarch combined in a bowl

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  9. Whisk in the vinegar and water and cook over medium heat, stirring, until thickened.

    Vinegar and water in a saucepan with a wooden spoon

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  10. Add the sliced cooked beets and the salt and freshly ground black pepper and bring to a boil.

    Beets in vinegar, water, salt, and pepper

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  11. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes.

    Harvard beets in a sauce pan with a wooden spoon

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  12. Stir the butter into the beets and serve them hot.

    Slices of butter stirred into cooked beets in a pot with a wooden spooon

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  13. Enjoy!

    Harvard beets in a grey dish with a spoon

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  • As a shortcut, you can use drained canned beets (not pickled) and skip the first few steps. If you do use this shortcut, the recipe will only take about 20 minutes to prepare.
  • Beets can be found as a fresh crop at farmers markets from early summer through late fall and are a superfood, packed with vitamins as well as flavor.
  • Look for beets that are firm and that have healthy-looking greens attached. The greens are delicious when cooked, so don't simply trim them and throw them away! If you prefer, you can roast the beets instead of boiling them for this recipe.
  • You can also freeze Harvard beets to enjoy later. If you have a bumper crop of beets from your garden or couldn't resist a big bunch from the farmers market, go ahead and make a few batches—simply freeze the leftovers for a quick meal on a busy night.​