What's the Difference Between Turnips and Rutabagas?

Rutabaga and Turnips
Diana Rattray

Turnips and rutabagas are both members of the cabbage family, Brassica. 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.

Characteristics of Turnips vs. Rutabagas

Turnips (Brassica rapa) are usually white or white and purple while rutabagas are usually yellowish and brown. Rutabagas (Brassica napobrassica) are slightly sweeter-tasting than turnips.

The most obvious visible difference between the two root vegetables is their size. Turnips for food are harvested when small and tender. They get woody when they get bigger. Turnips are also grown as a nutritious livestock feed.

Rutabagas stay tender at larger sizes. Even though you might find some small ones, they are usually harvested at a larger size. A quick rule of thumb is that the yellowish ones are rutabagas, and the smaller white and purple ones are turnips. Rutabagas are also called "Swedes" or Swedish turnips, yellow turnips, and "neeps." Many simply call them turnips.

Turnips can be grown in a variety of climates and you can plant them in your garden almost anywhere. But rutabagas are a cold climate crop that can be damaged by temperatures above 75 F. You won't have success with them in warmer areas.

History

There is evidence that the turnip was first cultivated before the 15th century BC, where it was grown in India for its oil-bearing seeds. The earliest reference to the rutabaga in print was in 1620 when it was noted that it could be found growing wild in Sweden. Its origin is given as either Scandinavia or Russia. Rutabagas first appeared in North America in about 1817 where they were reportedly being grown in Illinois.

Preparation and Cooking

As with many vegetables, turnips or rutabagas should be chosen based on their firmness and whether they feel a bit heavy for their size. You might wonder why rutabagas in markets are usually coated with a layer of wax. The wax is applied when the rutabagas are harvested to keep them from losing moisture and drying out. The thick waxed peel can present preparation challenges. A Y-shaped vegetable peeler works well, and you might find the rutabaga is easier to peel after it is cut in half and sliced.

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.

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Watch Now: How to Make Delicious Mashed Rutabaga

To prolong the growing season, freeze your diced or pureed turnip or rutabaga. The Scots make a dish called "tatties and neeps," in which potatoes and rutabagas mashed separately and served with haggis.

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. Young rutabaga greens are best for eating.

Nutrition Facts

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% DV)
Sugars 7.8 g
Protein 1.7 g
Vitamin C 35 mcg (58% DV)
Vitamin D 0 mcg
Calcium 66 mg
Iron 1 mg
Potassium 472 mg (13% 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% DV)
Sugars 4.9 g
Protein 1.2 g
Vitamin C 27.3 mcg (46% DV)
Vitamin D 0 mcg
Calcium 39 mg
Iron 0 mg
Potassium 248 mg (7% DV)