Borscht: An Iconic & Nourishing Soup From Eastern Europe

Borscht is a traditional Eastern European soup known for its vibrant colour and rich flavours. It is typically made with beets as the star ingredient, along with a variety of vegetables and often meat. Borscht holds significant importance in Europe and Northern Asia. It is a staple dish in countries like Ukraine, Russia, Poland, and others. From the hearty Ukrainian borscht with beef to the vegetarian Russian version, borscht offers a diverse culinary experience rooted in tradition and cherished by many.

The origins of borscht can be traced back to ancient times, with some evidence suggesting that it originated in what is now Ukraine. The dish gained prominence in Eastern European cuisine, particularly in Ukraine and Russia, where it became an integral part of their culinary traditions. Borscht's historical significance lies in its representation of the region's agricultural heritage and the resourcefulness of its people in utilising local ingredients.

Borscht is a sweet and sour vegetable soup that holds an undeniable connection to Russia and Ukraine. Typically, it features beets or beetroot, resulting in a vibrant red or magenta colour. While this version is often associated with Russian cuisine in the American imagination, the reality is far more complex. Borscht comes in numerous variations, reflecting the diverse preferences of different cultures and individuals.

It can be served hot or cold, with or without meat, and its spelling varies. It may even deviate from its traditional appearance, as showcased by the innovative "petroleum borscht" with squid ink. Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, Ashkenazi Jews, Georgians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, and even China have their own interpretations of borscht. Unravelling its essence means exploring its disputed origins and sidestepping the question of ownership.

5 Tips To Make The Perfect Borscht

1. Balance the Flavours:

Achieving the perfect balance of flavours is crucial for a delicious borscht. Be mindful of the sweet and earthy notes from beets, the tanginess from vinegar or lemon juice, and the savoury richness from meat or broth. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly to create a harmonious blend of flavours.

2. Use Fresh Ingredients:

Fresh vegetables are key to enhancing the taste and vibrancy of borscht. Choose beets, cabbage, carrots, and other vegetables that are firm, crisp, and full of flavour. Fresh herbs like dill or parsley can also elevate the taste. Opting for quality ingredients will ensure a more authentic and enjoyable borscht experience.

3. Slow Cooking for Depth:

Allowing the borscht to simmer over low heat for an extended period helps develop complex flavours. Slow cooking allows the ingredients to meld together, intensifying the taste and aroma. This method also tenderises tougher cuts of meat, allowing them to become melt-in-your-mouth tender while infusing the broth with richness.

4. Don't Forget the Garnishes:

Garnishes add texture and additional flavours to borscht. Classic garnishes include a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of fresh herbs, or a squeeze of lemon juice. These finishing touches bring brightness, creaminess, and a pop of freshness to the soup. Experiment with different garnishes to find your preferred combination.

5. Let It Rest:

After cooking, let the borscht rest for some time, preferably overnight. This resting period allows the flavours to meld and intensify further. The soup will have a chance to develop deeper complexity, resulting in a more satisfying eating experience. Reheating the borscht before serving will also help blend the flavours and ensure a warm, comforting bowl of perfection.

7 Health Benefits

1. Nutrient-Rich:

Borscht is packed with essential nutrients thanks to its vegetable-based ingredients. Beets, cabbage, carrots, and other veggies provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support overall health and well-being.

2. Heart Health:

The high fibre content in borscht promotes heart health by aiding digestion and reducing cholesterol levels. Additionally, beets contain nitrates that may help lower blood pressure and improve circulation keeping your heart fit.

3. Immune Boosting:

The combination of vegetables in borscht provides a range of vitamins and antioxidants that support a healthy immune system, helping to fight off illnesses and infections.

4. Weight Management:

Borscht is low in calories and high in fibre, making it a satisfying and nutritious option for those looking to manage their weight. The fibre helps keep you fuller for longer, reducing the chances of overeating.

5. Digestive Health:

The fibre-rich ingredients in borscht promote healthy digestion by preventing constipation and maintaining a healthy gut. Additionally, the probiotics in fermented versions of borscht, like kvass, can contribute to a balanced gut microbiome.

6. Anti-Inflammatory Properties:

Certain ingredients in borscht, such as beets and onions, contain anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce inflammation in the body and alleviate symptoms of conditions like arthritis.

7. Hydration and Detoxification:

Borscht's high water content helps to keep the body hydrated, while the beets and other vegetables aid in the detoxification process, supporting kidney and liver health.

Regional Variations

Borscht has undergone fascinating regional adaptations, each with its own unique twist on the classic soup. Ukrainian borscht often features a beet-based broth, hearty vegetables like cabbage and potatoes, and meat. Russian borscht commonly includes a variety of vegetables, such as beets, cabbage, carrots, and onions, in a lighter, clear broth. Polish borscht, known as Barszcz, is typically made with fermented beets, giving it a tangy flavour, and may be served with sour cream or dumplings. Romanian borscht, called Ciorbă, leans towards a sour taste, often achieved by using fermented wheat bran or sour cherry juice. Jewish borscht, known as beet soup, incorporates sweet and sour elements, featuring beets, sugar, and vinegar.

Historically, borscht played a role in cultural and political events. During the Russian Revolution, it symbolised the divide between the Bolsheviks (red borscht) and the anti-Bolsheviks (white borscht). In Jewish cuisine, borscht became a symbolic dish, often served during Passover seders. The regional variations of borscht reflect the diverse culinary traditions and cultural influences across Eastern Europe, showcasing the adaptability of the dish to local ingredients and preferences.

Recipe For Borscht

                                           Video Credit: Natashas Kitchen/YouTube


3 medium beets, peeled and grated

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 carrots, peeled and grated

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1 small head of cabbage, shredded

4 cups of vegetable or beef broth

1 can (14 ounces) of diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon of sugar

2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

Fresh dill, chopped (for garnish)

Sour cream (for serving)


In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and minced garlic, and sauté until they become translucent.

Add the grated beets and grated carrots to the pot. Stir well to combine, then cook for about 5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.

Add the diced potatoes, shredded cabbage, vegetable or beef broth, diced tomatoes (including the juice), tomato paste, bay leaf, and sugar to the pot. Stir everything together.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and let it simmer for about 30–40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Stir in the red wine vinegar, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the seasoning according to your preference.

Remove the pot from the heat and let the borscht rest for about 10 minutes to allow the flavours to meld together.

Serve the borscht hot. Garnish each bowl with a sprinkle of fresh dill and a dollop of sour cream.

Enjoy your homemade borscht! It pairs well with crusty bread or sourdough for a satisfying meal.