Turnip and rutabaga

Other Names: Rutabaga: Swede, Swedish cabbage, Swedish turnip, Yellow turnip.

General Description: Turnips (Brassica rapa, Rapifera group) and rutabagas (Brassica napus, Napobrassica group), both members of the Brassica family, are round, firm root vegetables with a biting flavor akin to cabbage and mustard. Turnips have been cultivated since ancient times; many distinct kinds were known to the Romans and Greeks. In Rome turnips were known as both rapa and napus. In Middle English the latter term became nepe, which combined with the word “turn” (as in “make round”) and became the word “turnip.”
Rutabaga gets its name from the Swedish rotabagge, suggesting a Scandinavian origin. Both white- and yellow-fleshed rutabaga varieties have been known in Europe for more than 300 years.

Although closely related, turnips and rutabagas are different. Most turnips are white-fleshed and most rutabagas are yellow-fleshed, but there are also white-fleshed rutabagas and yellow-fleshed turnips. Turnips and rutabagas have a different number of chromosomes. Botanical studies indicate that a rare hybridization between a cabbage (18 chromosomes) and turnip (20 chromosomes) resulted in the rutabaga (38 chromosomes), which was probably first found in Europe in the late Middle Ages.

Turnips are smooth and have several circles of ridges at the base of their leaves with white flesh and purple-tinged white skin. Small young turnips are delicate and slightly sweet; as they age, their taste becomes stronger and their texture woody. Rutabagas are larger, rounder, denser, and sweeter than turnips.

Season: Turnips are available year-round with peak season October through March. Young turnips are sold in spring. Rutabagas are in season from September through June.

Purchase: Look for small turnips that feel heavy for their size. They should be smooth and firm with unblemished skin and have fresh, green leaves. Look for firm, smooth-skinned rutabagas that feel heavy for their size.

Avoid: Pass up turnips larger than 3 inches in diameter because they are apt to be woody. Avoid bruised or cut rutabagas as these will have been in storage too long.

Storage: Refrigerate turnips in a plastic bag for up to 1 week. Refrigerate rutabagas in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks.


  1. Wash in cool water.
  2. Trim the top and bottom of the vegetable.
  3. Peel, if necessary, using a vegetable peeler. Young turnips need not be peeled; old turnips will have tough skin that should be removed. Rutabagas are generally waxed to prevent moisture loss and must be peeled before eating.

Serving Suggestions: Dress shredded raw turnips, cabbage, and carrots with sharp mustard vinaigrette and poppy seeds to make a slaw. Add diced turnips and/or rutabagas to chicken potpie. Serve slices of raw young turnips with Kalamata olives and cherry tomatoes to make a simple appetizer.

Flavor Affinities: Cream, curry, duck, lamb, lemon, marjoram, onions, pork, potatoes, thyme, vinegar.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com