Get to the Root
The rutabaga is a cruciferous root vegetable and hybrid of the turnip and cabbage. It is in the family of Brassica napus and hails from 17th century Northern Europe and Scandinavia. It is most often called a “swede” or Swedish Turnip, and is believed to have been developed in 16th century by a Swedish botanist. Many centuries ago, in Ireland, it served as the first Jack-O-Lantern, wherein it was hollowed and filled with glowing coals.
There are three main types of rutabagas: the American Purple Top, the Laurentian, and the Thomas Strain of the Laurentian. The rutabaga and turnip, both of the mustard family, are cool weather crops which is why we see them more often in the winter months. The rutabaga is half yellowish-orange and half purple. The skin is thick, and the neck of the rutabaga is thicker than that of a turnip. Rutabagas are larger and sweeter than turnips, and offer a sweet, nutty flavor.
Rutabagas are high in beta carotene, Vitamin C (35% RDA,) and Vitamin A (30%RDA), as well as potassium and manganese, which are necessary for energy. Other nutritional benefits include a healthy dose of B6, thiamin, folic acid, and phosphorous, which helps metabolize proteins and sugars. Additionally, the rutabaga provides antioxidants that help support the immune system and protect from free radical damage. In fact, the American Cancer Society recommends we increase our consumption of cruciferous vegetables.
Celebrating the Rutabaga
The rutabaga has not surged in popularity across the States as other root vegetables have done over the years. In fact, while more popular in the northern states, it is often overlooked elsewhere. This is probably due to the high population of Scandinavian and Russian immigrants in the northern states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin. Each August, Askov, Minnesota and Cumberland, Wisconsin hold rutabaga festivals where the town gathers for food, fun and festivities in honor of the rutabaga.
Selection and Preparation
When selecting a rutabaga, look for a thick, dry skin with a large neck. In markets, they are usually next to the turnips, so remember to look for the yellow-orange skin. When preparing a rutabaga, make sure you have a good sharp knife, as they can be challenging to cut. They can be parboiled to soften the outer skin; then peeled and diced.
Rutabagas have a rich, nutty, semi-sweet flavor and go well as a side dish with many meats and poultry. They are also delicious roasted and combined with parsnips, carrots, and onions. They take a bit longer to cook than carrots or parsnips, so you’ll want to start them in the oven or on the stove first; then add the other vegetables to ensure they’re done at the same time.
Mashed Rutabaga (serves 2)
2 large rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 small onion chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
1 pinch turbinado sugar (optional)
- On the stove, add oil to the pan and sauté onion until tender
- Add diced rutabaga
- Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar (optional)
- Add water to cover rutabaga; cook covered until tender; about 30-40 minutes (you may have to add more liquid)
- Drain rutabaga
- Mash to desired consistency; garnish with parsley
- Double check seasonings; add salt and pepper if needed
- Build up the flavor by using a vegetable or chicken stock in lieu of water
- Season with a pinch of crushed red pepper
- After removing from stove, toss in some fresh spinach for added color and nutrients
Integrative Nutrition is the world’s largest nutrition school and Health Coach Training Program. Through our innovative, one-year online course, students learn the principles of health coaching, business skills, and over 100 different dietary theories with lectures by the world’s leading experts.