What's the Difference Between Turnips and Rutabagas?

what is a rutabaga

The Spruce Eats / Lindsay Kreighbaum

Turnips and rutabagas are both members of the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. The rutabaga is thought to be an ancient cross between a turnip and a cabbage, and therefore a hybrid. Both of these root vegetables are a good source of complex carbohydrates for soups, stew, and casseroles. and have edible greens as well.

illustration featuring difference between turnips and rutebagas
The Spruce / Madelyn Goodnight

Difference Between Turnips and Rutabagas

Turnips are usually white and purple on the outside, with very white flesh, while rutabagas are yellowish and brown on the outside with orange-yellow flesh. Rutabagas are also generally much larger than turnips.

So for a quick rule of thumb, the brownish-yellowish ones are rutabagas, and the smaller white and purple ones are turnips. 

In terms of their flavor, rutabagas are slightly sweeter-tasting than turnips whereas turnips have a slightly more radishy flavor.

The most obvious visible difference between the two root vegetables is their size. Turnips are best when small and tender, like around the size of a tennis ball. They get woody when they get bigger. You don't usually need to peel a turnip, but the bigger it gets, the thicker its skin, and the more likely you may have to peel it. A potato peeler works perfectly for this.

Rutabagas stay tender at larger sizes. Even though you might find some small ones, they are usually harvested at a larger size. 

How to Use Them

As with many vegetables, turnips or rutabagas should be chosen based on their firmness and whether they feel a bit heavy for their size. 

Both rutabagas and turnips can be used in a variety of ways. They're both excellent roasted, and they are often used in soups and stews. They can also be served boiled, mashed, or in casseroles. A rutabaga puff is a tasty side dish casserole that will fit into any menu plan. Rutabaga is also an excellent addition to mashed potatoes (and vice-versa).

Turnip greens are edible and that they're very popular in the Southern states, and rutabaga greens are edible as well. Rutabaga greens are a bit closer to cabbage or collard greens in flavor and texture, and they are not as tangy as turnip greens.

Rutabagas are great for roasting and stewing, and in hearty soups, like beef barley, chicken soup, and in a roasted root vegetable platter along with carrots, parsnips, beets, onions and celery root.

Turnips, which are also great prepared in all of those ways, can also be eaten raw, used in much the same way you would use radishes, like in a salad or a crudite platter.  

Turnips are a nice addition to mashed potatoes, and you can even switch it up by boiling and mashing them with some butter and salt. You'll find that a mashed turnip is not quite as starchy as potato, so you can add a bit of potato to the mashed turnip so that it takes on a more creamy, starchy consistency.

What Do They Taste Like?

Turnips and rutabagas are both members of the cabbage family, so they each have a flavor characteristic of other members of that family, including cabbage, radishes and cauliflower. And while raw turnips have a spiciness similar to that of radishes, rutabagas by comparison are sweeter.

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Watch Now: How to Make Delicious Mashed Rutabaga

Storage

Both rutabagas and turnips can be stored in your refrigerator, in the crisper drawer set to the humid setting, for up to two weeks. Rutabagas can also be stored like potatoes or onions, in a cool dark place like a cupboard, for up to a week. Turnips stored this way will tend to lose their firmness, so keep them in the fridge. 

You can also freeze your diced or pureed turnip or rutabaga.

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How to Make Southern Turnip Greens

Nutrition and Benefits

Both turnips and rutabagas are good sources of fiber and vitamin C.  Rutabagas have more carbohydrates, accounting for the sweeter taste.

Rutabaga (1 Cup Raw)

Calories 50
Total Fat 0.3
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 28 mg
Total Carbohydrate 11.4
Dietary Fiber 3.5 g (14 percent DV)
Sugars 7.8 g
Protein 1.7 g
Vitamin C 35 mcg (58 percent DV)
Vitamin D 0 mcg
Calcium 66 mg
Iron 1 mg
Potassium 472 mg (13 percent DV)

Turnip (1 Cup Raw)

Calories 36
Total Fat 0.1
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 87 mg
Total Carbohydrate 8.4 mg
Dietary Fiber 2.3 g (9 percent DV)
Sugars 4.9 g
Protein 1.2 g
Vitamin C 27.3 mcg (46 percent DV)
Vitamin D 0 mcg
Calcium 39 mg
Iron 0 mg
Potassium 248 mg (7 percent DV)
Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170465/nutrients

  2. US Department of Agriculture.  FoodData Central. Rutabagas, raw. Updated April 1, 2019.