General Description: Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) are root vegetables in the Umbelliferae family that resemble ivory-colored carrots. Parsnips have been cultivated in Europe since ancient times, but they became less important over the centuries as other sources of (once rare) sweetness became available. Europeans brought the parsnip to America in the early 1600s. Parsnips are complex, combining sweetness with earthy herbal notes. Parsnips and parsley root are similar in appearance, though only the parsnip is sweet.

Season: After the first frost of the year, the parsnip’s starch is coverted to sugar, and they are ready to be harvested.

Purchase: Look for small to medium, well-shaped roots free of pitting. It is the age rather than the size of the parsnip that determines tenderness, so choose large squat parsnips for ease of preparation.

Avoid: Parsnips that have been stored too long may be tough and even woody. Avoid limp, shriveled, or spotted parsnips. The tops should show no signs of sprouting. Avoid parsnips that are thin and long because they are apt to be stringy.

Storage: Wrap parsnips in paper towels, place inside a plastic bag, and refrigerate in the coldest, moistest part of the refrigerator for up to 1 month.


Note: Parsnips are usually eaten cooked, as they tend to be fibrous, particularly their cores. If the cores seem overly tough or stringy, cut them out and save them for soup stock.

  1. Trim off the ends and knobs.
  2. Peel with a peeler before cooking if cutting into chunks for stew or roasting; peel after cooking if mashing them (this helps preserve their color and flavor and saves nutrients). The outer layer of raw parsnip may be shredded and added to coleslaw.
  3. Boil, steam, or roast. Don’t overcook. Their flavor is sweeter when just tender.

Serving Suggestions: Toss cooked parsnips with butter and herbs such as tarragon, thyme, chervil, or chives. Season cooked parsnips with nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, or allspice and a little brown sugar or maple syrup. Cook parsnips with potatoes and mash together. Roast chunks of parsnip tossed with olive oil and sage or rosemary in a hot oven till soft inside and caramelized outside.

Flavor Affinities: Apples, brown butter, brown sugar, cream, curry, leeks, oranges, root vegetables, stews and ragouts, truffles.

from Quirk Books: