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Turnip or Rutabaga: Which is Which?

Turnip or Rutabaga: Which is Which?

Our supermarkets are chock-full of all sorts of fruits and vegetables. The variety can be awe-inspiring and, at the same time, confusing.

Many times, certain vegetables are confused because of their similarities (see Is It A Yam Or A Sweet Potato?) and two popular root vegetables are no exception: the turnip and the rutabaga.  Both are members of the Brassica family, which includes cabbages, but there are key differences. So as you plan your Thanksgiving menu, you’ll know exactly which one you’re serving.

Turnip or Rutabaga: Which is Which?

Rutabaga: The rutabaga, the least attractive of the two, is larger, less shapely, rougher skinned, and is usually sold coated with food-grade wax.  The flesh is golden in color and a bit milder in flavor than the turnip. Often times, rutabagas are marketed as “wax turnips” or “yellow turnips.”

They are relative newcomers, introduced to America in the 19th Century by European immigrants. In Scotland, rutabagas are known as “neeps.”

Rutabaga

Turnip: Turnips are a smooth white or violet-and-white bulb with white flesh and have been around since ancient times.  In the early 1800s, seed catalogs began featuring “the cabbage turnip” and “turnip rooted cabbage,” which would later be referred to as rutabagas.

Purple turnip

Both vegetables are low in calories, and rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium, and antioxidants.

How To Eat

Both vegetables are peeled before cooking. But before peeling a turnip or rutabaga, trim off the top and bottom, to give you a sturdy surface. Turnip skin is tender enough to peel with a vegetable peeler, however, rutabagas usually require paring with a knife.

You can get away with not peeling a turnip if you grow your own, but supermarket rutabagas must be peeled because of their wax-coated skin. Rutabagas are waxed after harvesting to keep them from drying out. With a wax coating, they can be stored for weeks, like other root vegetables.

Both are often cubed and boiled or oven-roasted until tender (add some butter, salt and pepper, and mash, or leave cubed). Some people actually enjoy eating turnips raw in salads or whole like an apple! And while most people are more familiar with turnips, many cooks prefer rutabagas for their milder flavor and the color they add to dishes.

You can also enjoy turnip greens, steamed or sauteed.

White turnip with greens, which are delicious steamed!

We’ve included two recipes for you to try, below.

Silken Turnip and Potato Soup

(from The Washington Post)

Try this creamy soup that uses no milk or cream. Easy and delicious.

Ingredients:

1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons; use olive oil if making a vegan recipe)
2 onions, thinly sliced
4-6 turnips (about 2 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced
3-5 potatoes (1/2 to 1 pound), peeled and thinly sliced
2 quarts chicken stock (use vegetable stock if you prefer)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions:

Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium-low heat.  Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add turnips, potatoes, and salt.  Stir to combine, cover, and let cook for another 15 minutes.  Add the stock and simmer 20 minutes or until veggies are soft.  Puree with an immersion blender, or in batches in a blender or food processor. Serve hot.

Rutabaga Puff Casserole

Ingredients:

1 large rutabaga, cooked and mashed
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp salt
dash pepper
dash paprika
4 eggs, separated

Directions:

Combine mashed rutabaga, egg yolks, butter, dill, salt, pepper, and paprika in a large mixing bowl. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the rutabaga mixture. Place mixture in a greased 1-1/2-quart casserole dish. Bake at 375° F. oven until golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.

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  • Don Nelson says:

    I roast turnips and rutabagas with carrots, potatoes and a head (yes, a head) of garlic with lots of good olive oil, salt, and some oregano. 450 for a bit and everything turns out soft with a crunchy skin. Can’t go wrong with high roasting!

  • deborah donnelly says:

    Bit of brown sugar ,not but.

  • deborah donnelly says:

    If I have a turkey for the Holidays here in Canada,We always have turnip/rutabaga,I boil it like potatoes,drain,& mash, the I add butter,pepper,& some brown sugar to taste.I have also made a cassarole with potatoes & turnip,more spuds than turnip,mashed & mixed together with butter salt pepper, but of brown sugar , egg & milk(beaten together),put in a greased bake pan & put in oven til nicely brown on top. So good.

  • Nancy Pruett says:

    My Grandmother was a farm girl, too. She cooked cubed turnips with a pork steak or chop, added a spoonful of sugar, and always with cornbread. Served in bowls, to get all the juices. Delicious!

  • Gloria Goosney says:

    I am from Newfoundland and we use rutabagas all the time .we boil them with our other veggies and I like them mashed with potatoes and fried onions.you can even have meatballs and gravy with this . Yummy !!!!!! ?

  • Rebecca says:

    I boil turnips with butter and some sugar. Helps take out some of the bitterness! They are so good!! My best friend’s mom makes them that way. She always said a spoonful of sugar helps the veggies go down! Lol

  • Pamela Ward says:

    I was introduced to the Rutabaga a few years ago and was told to just cook it like a baked potato, I added nothing and it was delicious, I have made other dishes with it, cubed it, cooked it, and added an Alfreado sauce, yummy.

  • Shirley Lindsey says:

    I live in South Georgia, USA. I cook turnips the way my mother did. Boil some pork, preferably neck bones, long enough to get all the good flavor from them. Strain the water to get any little bone chips out, put broth back into clean pot and add throughly washed, maybe 5 or 6 times, the turnip greens AND the chopped up peeled roots. Always remove the stems of the turnip leaves. It is labor intensive, but worth it.

  • Ellen Hyvonen O says:

    My Finnish ancestry has me loving Rutabagas in Pasties with rutabagas and/or without them.and without them. Many Finns live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan so rutabagas are almost a staple vegetable. My Grandma also made a Rutabaga souffle for holidays mostly Christmas and Thanksgiving . That was truly delicious. Turnips she cooked very differently.

  • Gale says:

    All turnips ain’t purple!! Sweet white ones at our farmer’s market are better eatin’ than apples!

  • Mary ann sullivan says:

    My mother cooked these every Thanksgiving and Christmas. My friend made hers with a small diced onion boiled in with the rutabaga then mashed up good with butter, salt, and pepper. Mm mm. Mmm. Good heated in microwave, too

  • Kristin Ziama says:

    Oops!!! My computer popped in databases for rutabagas. Sorry I didn’t catch it until my comment was posted.

  • Kristin Ziama says:

    Mom used to add databases to beef stew…beef stew meat, potatoes, carrots and a rutabaga (probably a small one, though that is hard to find, or half a one). It added great taste to the stew. I had never tried turnips, but my daughter is a vegetarian, so the Thanksgiving before last, I saw a recipe for a root vegetable dish on TV (rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, onions and carrots), and decided we’d try it. She really liked it, and so did I. I really need to try the mashed rutabaga with butter, salt and pepper. Sounds like real comfort food.

  • anne says:

    In the UK rutabagas are called swede, I have no clue why, my Mum mashed hers with butter and pepper as I do mine….Delicious.

  • Glenda Prine says:

    A pone of hot cornbread is all that is required with any of the suggestions, above! We always eat roots with turnip greens, There is no turnip without roots. Other greens like kale, collards, cabbage, mustard, etc., are greens, only.

  • anna Christopher says:

    My mother was from Ireland and called rutabagas sweet turnips.

  • Frank Zieser says:

    My Mother grew turnips but never rutabagas, she would buy rutabagas during the winter for a little break from potatoes. Her turnips were always sliced and in a bowl of vinegar on the table but never cooked. It seems that rutabagas don’t appeal to everyone, but my wife and I enjoy them just cubed boiled and eaten like boiled potatoes with salt, pepper, ands butter. I grew them in our garden, a spoon full of seed will grow a lot of rutabagas. Successive plantings about three weeks apart will have you in fresh ones all summer, until new potatoes are ready to dig.

    Frank.

  • Karen Peterson says:

    I love the turnip cubed and cooked in my turnip greens for New Year’s day, but my favorite is the rutabaga. We’ve always made a Thanksgiving dish called turnips and carrots but it actually uses the rutabaga. Cut up the rutabaga and a bag of carrots, boil them until they are done, drain, add a stick of butter, pepper and salt and mash them until nicely mashed. It is the most beautiful color and the flavor of the two vegetables blend to make the most incredible taste…evah!!! It isn’t Thanksgiving in our house if we don’t have turnips and carrots.

  • james curnutt says:

    Ilike the turnup . I have a problem finding the right seed for the turnups .my seed turned out to be just for the greens. how do I find the right seed?

  • Renee says:

    I grew up having rutabagas, turnips and parsnips with our evening meal. I love all the of them…

  • David Dalluge says:

    My grandma was an older farm wife. She used to mix databases in with her potatoes. I remember they were really good. Would anyone have any idea on ratio of rutabagas to potatoes? I would appreciate any recipies for the two ingredients mixed or just rutabaga recipes. Thank you.

  • John Rogers says:

    I like turnips a lot better than rutabagas and I like my turnips raw. Sometimes I slice them, but I usually just peel them and eat them like an apple.

  • Marian Purnell says:

    I love both of them equally. I buy the one that I can find. If I find both I buy both.

  • Jeff Pauly says:

    I have never eaten these much, however with having a good garden now, I plan to plant some since I have seen them used in many a soup or stew as something healthier and different from using potatoe.

  • Tosh Connor says:

    Back when I was an apprentice at the Parkersburg News/Sentinel in WVa, a fellow employee introduced me to rutabagas. He would just peel, slice, and eat with salt. Haven’t had one since, but I remember I liked them. Now I eat potatoes by the slice with salt every time she is making some for supper.

  • Robert Leitner says:

    Rutabagas are my comfort food. I was raised eating rutabagas every winter holiday and many a Sunday Dinner. My mother would cut in cubes and boil until soft and add a stick of butter , salt and white pepper. That dish was always the first emptied and we never got tired of them.

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