(Brassica rapa var. rapa— Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
For a very long time now, confusion reigns as to the classification of turnip, swede, and rutabaga since they are very closely related and their names interchangeably used.
The current arrangement is to call the common white turnip B. rapa
and to assign the Swede
to the classification of B. napus ssp rapifera.
Rape, another very close relative which is grown for its oil-bearing seeds, is also B. napus. However, this is not a universally agreed-upon system.
The white turnip is a creamy globe tinged with rose at the top. The rutabaga is a large globe with bumpy tan skin and a yellow interior. The outside is usually waxed to keep the vegetable from drying out.
Both the turnip and rutabaga are moderately good sources of food fiber, calcium, and vitamins A and C; but, nutritionally, rutabagas are superior, having almost twice the amount of nutrients as the white turnip.
The turnip is one of the oldest cultivated vegetable and thought to have originated in northern Europe about 2000 BCE from a variety of bird rape (B. campestris). Pliny listed twelve distinct types under rapa and napu.
Not officially a root, the turnip is rather a swollen base of the stem of the plant, and selection and breeding have produced many different larger varieties. Before the spread of potatoes, the highly nutritive turnip, was among the most important staple food for man and beast.
Today, turnips are not as widely used; but a tale is told of their value to the Romans during their spread into aquiring valuable agricultural lands. Curius Dentatus, a war hero at the beginning of the 3rd century BCE, was approached by envoys from the hostile Samnites while he was roasting turnips over a fire. They offered him large amounts of gold if he would defect to their side, but he stuck to his turnip roasting and presumably to his country also.
The turnip spread from the classical world to Asia and northern China, where it became a common vegetable well before the medieval period in Europe. From China, it found its way to Japan about 1,300 years ago.
The Chinese traditionally roasted the turnip because the high temperatures increased the sweetness by converting the starch to tasty, brown pyrodextrins in the crisp outer flesh.
The Japanese preferred to pickle it or carve chrysanthemum shapes out of it.
In Europe, the French devoted much care to producing specially good varieties of turnip, and pick theirs when young and no larger than a small orange. These are braised, fried, or glazed and have become a traditional accompaniment to certain dishes.
The annoying – and nutrient-depleting – habit of simply boiling the vegetable seems to have come from English-speaking countries, who evidentally lacked the imagination of Asia and France.
Turnips were introduced to Canada in 1541, but not taken to the US (Virginia) until 1609. This time, it was the colonists who introduced a vegetable to the Native Americans. Turnip tops, like other brassica greens, are edible and nutritious.
Teltow turnips (Brassica rapa subvar. pygmaea)
and May turnips (Brassica rapa subvar. majalis)
are the finest turnip varieties.
Teltow turnips are the dwarf form of the white turnip, and flourish in a sandy soil. They were named after the only area where they were cultivated before WWII around Teltow, Germany, and are usually available from early spring to late fall depending on when they were sown.
The May turnip, as the name implies, is available only from May to June. It is good raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable.
Kabu or Japanese turnip is a variety that is almost identical in appearance to the May turnip, as well as being similar in texture. There is one noticeable difference, however. The flavour is hotter and more like a radish.
The fall turnip (Brassica rapa subvar. rapifera) is not suitable for eating raw and includes one variety with a decidedly interesting name: “Round white red-headed”.
Turnips are usually white or creamy white, but there are now golden yellow
varieties. They grow best in cooler climates, preferring about 20°C (68°F) and sheltered sites. Early varieties also grow well in containers with the proper soil mix and are an excellent crop to grow between taller plants.
Some varieties include the following:
Green Globe is round with white flesh and its tops make excellent greens.
Golden Ball, Golden Perfection, Orange Jelly is a later variety that is small, round and yellow. It is tasty and excellent for storing.
Manchester Market is a round maincrop with green skin and white flesh. It also stores well.
Purple Top Milan
is an early variety that produces flattish roots with purple markings and white flesh with an excellent flavour.
Purple Top White Globe or Veitch’s Red Globe is an early attractive old cultivar with round or slightly flattened roots. It is a reddish-purple above ground and white below.
Snowball is an early delicately flavoured white variety.
Tokyo turnip (Tokyo White, Tokyo Market, Tokyo Cross, etc.) is a fairly new addition to the North American market and proving to be a gem of turnips. Although it can be left in the ground to grow larger, it is usually picked when about an inch in diameter. At this stage when eaten raw, it is quite similar to radishes, giving a bittersweet, juicy, nip. Cooked, it mellows to a buttery flavour.
Tokyo Cross is an excellent early F1 hybrid that produces small tasty white mini globes, but is also good when left to grow larger.
Rutabagas, Swede, Swedish, yellow turnip, Canadian turnip, Russian turnip, chou-navet jaune (French and French Canadian) (Brassica napus var. napobrassica – Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae])
Rutabagas are taproots of plants belonging to the cabbage family and very closely related to the turnip. It is thought to be a cross between the fall turnip and kohlrabi.
Rutabaga is a corruption of the archaic Swedish word rotabaggee which roughly means ‘baggy root’. From ‘rapa’ comes the common name “rape”, which is now given to another species; but the Scottish word “neep” is derived from the botanical napus although they prefer to use the name “Swede” since, it is thought, that is where they obtained the vegetable.
The rutabaga is often eaten throughout the winter in northern Europe, especially Scotland, where it is mashed with potatoes to become “tatties and neeps” which traditionally accompanies haggis.
For the most part, rutabagas grow above ground, looking much like giant turnips, except their flesh is yellow compared to turnip’s white or opaque coloured flesh. The flavour tends to be sweeter, but more assertive.
Rutabagas are tan or yellow, with a dark purple or reddish band at the top of their lumpy, irregular, roundish shape. They range in size from half a pound to almost three pounds, and are usually coated with a layer of wax.
The leaves are always a blue-green in contrast to the grass-green leaves of the turnip.
The white-fleshed varieties are generally grown for animal fodder, while the orange-fleshed ones are more nutritious. Along with the turnip, rutabagas were first used as winter fodder for sheep and cattle, improving the milk production during a traditionally lean period. The poor began to eat them during times of famine, which led to the rutabaga’s reputation as “peasant food”.
Rutabagas contain more nutrients and calories than turnips. They are an excellent source of Vitamin C, folate, potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, niacin, and Vitamin A. Turnips do not contain any Vitamin A.
Being a member of the cabbage family, these vegetables also contain valuable phytochemicals. Raw rutabaga contains an exceptionally high amount of the cancer-fighting glucosinolates, even more than other cabbage member
Although turnips have been around since Roman times, rutabagas only surfaced in the 17th century. Canada is now the major producer.
Rutabagas can be difficult to peel but well worth the effort. Then, they can then be cubed or sliced and eaten raw or cooked. The smaller ones are better raw.
The flesh of the rutabaga is denser than that of the turnip; therefore, it takes longer to cook. It is also good mashed and served hot or used later in place of pumpkin purée called for in any recipe.
Some varieties of rutabaga include the following:
Acme is a round variety with pale purple skin.
Angela produces a purple root.
Best of All is a round variety with yellow-coloured flesh and purple tops above ground
Lizzy is round with purple tops and yellow flesh. The texture is soft with a sweet nutty flavour.
Marian produces large, purple roots with yellow, very tasty flesh.
Turnip greens, turnip tops (Brassica rapa var. rapa)
The leafy parts of the turnip are obtained from all May or fall varieties of turnip roots. The greens from the variety Namenia
have serrated leaves, but all turnip greens are excellent chopped in salads or cooked briefly as a side dish.