What's the Difference Between a Turnip and a Rutabaga?

Rutabaga and Turnips
Diana Rattray

Similarities and Differences

The turnip and the rutabaga are both members of the cabbage family, Brassica, but the rutabaga is thought to be an ancient cross between a turnip and a cabbage, a hybrid. 

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.

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 them 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. So, the big 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.

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. This rutabaga puff is a tasty side dish casserole that will fit into any menu plan. Rutabaga is also an excellent addition to mashed potatoes. To prolong the growing season, freeze your diced or pureed turnip or rutabaga. The Scots make a dish called "tatties and neeps," potatoes and rutabagas mashed separately and served with haggis.

You probably know that turnip greens are edible and that they're very popular in the Southern states. But you might not realize that 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

Rutabaga (1 Cup Raw)

Total Fat0.3
Total Carbohydrate11.4
Dietary Fiber3.5g
Vitamin D0mcg


Turnip (1 Cup Raw)

Total Fat0.1
Total Carbohydrate8.4mg
Dietary Fiber2.3g
Vitamin D0mcg