This guide to turnips and rutabagas explains the difference between the two healthy root vegetables, how to grow them, and how to prepare them. These vegetables make smart choices for a diabetic diet, and you can serve them mashed as substitutes for the starchier potatoes.
Root vegetables confuse people. Some vegetables look alike and some you would never guess belong to the same family. For example, cabbages, the leafy vegetable from which they make kimchi, belongs to the same family as the solid root vegetables the turnip and the rutabaga.
They differ in color, but they taste similar. Rutabagas have a golden or brown color and grow larger and more roughly skinned than turnips which typically develop a purple and white coloring. Grocery stores often refer to rutabaga vegetables as wax turnips or yellow turnips.
You typically see them coated with food-grade wax. If you travel to Scotland, look for a vegetable called neeps, and you will find rutabaga. In other locales, look for them to also get called yellow turnip, Swedish turnip, or Swedes.
Turnips grow smoother skin, and some varieties exhibit more white flesh, while others appear more purple. Their other similarities include:
- low in calories,
- high in vitamin C,
- high in dietary fiber,
- high in potassium,
- high in antioxidants.
Preparing Turnips and Rutabagas
You must peel both vegetables before cooking them. Trim the bottom and top off first. Use a vegetable peeler to peel a turnip, but a paring knife on the rutabaga.
If you grow your own, you can avoid peeling and cook the vegetable whole, but if you purchase rutabaga, you must peel it because of the wax coating. It is not edible, but necessary to keep the vegetable from drying out after harvesting. Turnips provide a more assertive taste while rutabagas taste milder.
You can cube or slice turnips and rutabagas, then boil them. You can also oven-roast them topped with butter, pepper, and salt. Cook until they’re tender. You can also use the cubed or sliced turnips raw as a salad ingredient.
You can also make turnip fries, rutabaga fries, or add smaller cubes or mashed turnips to casseroles.
Botanical Name: Brassica napus var. napobrassica
Vegetable Type: Mustard
Color: Yellow and White
Known For: Sweet, nutty flavor
You can serve the rutabaga with other vegetable relatives such as Brussel sprouts, cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower. Cooks in the Deep South would likely serve it on Sunday with Kaiser rolls or sweet rolls which resemble Hawaiian rolls but are small and square. It complements nearly any meat — steak, chicken, pork, turkey, and game meats.
It works well with fried chicken or pork chops. Rutabaga greens exhibit a similar flavor to cabbage or collard greens with a similar texture, too.
Botanical Name: Brassica rapa var. rapa
Vegetable Type: Mustard
Color: Purple and White
Known For: Bitter yet potato-like taste
Growing Root Vegetables
Both of these vegetables grow quickly but rutabagas take a few extra weeks. They grow bigger. Turnips grow to two to three inches in diameter, while rutabagas grow to about six inches in diameter.
Until your rutabaga grows to the size of a grapefruit, it’s not ready. You can pick your turnips when they reach the size of a typical yellow onion. Use the rutabaga plant leaves as winter greens. You can also mash the bulb and serve it as you would mashed potatoes. Add butter and herbs as you would top a baked potato.
When you harvest, turnips, you can use the bulb and the leaves. This peppery flavored veggie provides a tangy, bitter taste. Turnip greens added to a salad provide a bit of bite and jazz it up. The mellow rutabaga gets used as a pie ingredient in the Deep South.
When you harvest rutabaga, it will be in late fall or early winter, hence their popularity at the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
Above ground, they differ, too. The leaves of rutabaga appear a faint blue and smooth while a turnip’s leaves appear bright green and a bit hairy. A turnip sticks its neck out, peeking out of the ground, but rutabagas tend to burrow. Turnips taste a bit woody.
You can grow these delicious root vegetables between rows of harvested spring corn or in the spaces vacated by early potatoes or peas. You’ll need the soil of 6 to 7 pH and well-drained, fertile soil. Plant in the fall or spring as seeds. Place them about one to two inches apart. Space your rows about 18 to 30 inches apart. You need to thin the seedlings, so the plants remain about three to six inches apart.
Be careful where you plant. You cannot plant these root vegetables where you have grown cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, collards, mustard, kale. They do not like to share space and these root vegetables will not grow well where the other vegetables were planted.
These plants will grow in USDA zones 3 to 11 but are native to the Mediterranean region. They love full sun, but they will willingly make do with partial shade. You need to put them in very well-draining soil since they can easily develop root rot. These root vegetables need at least one inch of water per week, so their roots develop properly.
Storing Your Rutabagas
You can keep your rutabagas and turnips in the refrigerator’s crisper bin using the humid setting. They will last up to two weeks.
No room in the fridge? No problem! You can store rutabagas as you would potatoes or onions. Choose a cool, dark space like a cupboard to store them for up to a week. Turnips turn mushy stored this way though, so just eat the lasagna leftovers taking up space in your fridge and make room for them.
Once you cube, dice, or purée your turnips or rutabagas, you can freeze them. Use either double zipped freezer bags or small plastic ware containers to freeze them inside.
Frequently Asked Questions
You’ve got rutabaga and turnip questions and we’re here to answer them.
What is the difference between a daikon and a turnip?
Daikon is a radish while a turnip is a turnip. They are related in the plant family, but they are not the same thing. Radishes have a bit of bite to them.
Are rutabagas high in sugar?
One cup of cubed rutabaga contains six grams of sugar.
What nutritional value does rutabaga have?
One cup of cubed rutabaga contains 53 calories and 3.2 grams of dietary fiber it and 1.5 grams of protein. It is high in vitamin C, providing 58 percent of an individual’s daily needs.
Are turnips high in sugar?
One cup of cubed turnip contains five grams of sugar.
What nutritional value does turnip have?
One cup of cubed turnip contains 34 calories and 3.1 grams of dietary fiber from it and 1.1 grams of protein. It is high in vitamin C, providing 30 percent of an individual’s daily needs.
Does rutabaga or turnip give you gas?
Eat some Beano before you munch rutabaga or turnip. Both contain indigestible fiber, raffinose, and sulfur compounds. These substances create hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans in your colon, and those two by-products account for the rotten eggs smelling gas you pass after eating anything containing either vegetable. Rather than blame it on the dog, buy some Beano and take it before the big holiday meal.
Is turnip or rutabaga good for diabetic patients?
Both of these vegetables are good for a diabetic diet. Both are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. High-fiber foods help reduce the sugar absorbed into the bloodstream.
The Urban Diabetes Network: Turnips and Diabetes
The Spruce Eats: Difference Between Turnips and Rutabagas
Fine Cooking: Turnip or Rutabaga?
Pure Wow: Rutabagas vs. Turnips