We have a confession to make: When temperatures start to drop, we spend a few minutes mourning the end of rosé cocktails and crunchy salads before getting very excited for an excuse to stay indoors with a steaming bowl of something hearty and delicious. And the backbone of any stew worth its salt? Root vegetables. While potatoes and carrots are our usual go-to ingredients, there’s a whole host of veggies out there just waiting to be added into a comforting cold-weather dish. You may think of them as boring, but we’re here to tell you that you’re sorely mistaken. Yep, we’re making a case for two underrated vegetables—turnips and rutabagas—that we know will transform your recipes. But wait, aren’t those two kind of the same thing? Nope.
Here’s what you need to know about the rutabaga vs. turnip confusion. Both of these root vegetables are members of the Brassica family (along with cabbages and broccoli), but rutabagas are actually considered to be a hybrid of a cabbage and a turnip. And while they may look and taste similar, rutabagas are slightly bigger and sweeter. But that’s not the only difference between them. Let’s break it down.
Turnips (or Brassica rapa, if you’re feeling fancy) are typically white-fleshed with white (or white and purple) skin. Rutabagas (aka Brassica napobrassica) have yellow flesh and a yellow or brown exterior. (You can technically also find yellow-fleshed turnips and white-fleshed rutabagas, but these varieties are hard to come by.) Another way to tell these guys apart at the grocery store? Rutabagas are bigger than turnips. Because although turnips can grow quite large in size, they tend to get woody, so they’re usually harvested when small and tender. Pictured above, the rutabaga is on the left and the turnip is on the right.
When it comes to picking the best vegetable of the bunch, opt for ones that feel firm and heavy for their size. And choose ones with the freshest-looking leaves—both turnips and rutabagas have edible stems that should be stored separately if you’re planning on eating them.
Both vegetables have a mild flavor that’s best described as sweet and earthy (sort of like if a cabbage and a potato had a baby). Rutabagas are slightly sweeter than turnips. (Maybe that’s why rutabagas are also called swedes.) Bigger (i.e., older) turnips tend to get bitter, so opt for smaller ones that are no more than four inches in diameter.
Both of these root vegetables are delicious in soups, stews and casseroles. Roast them in the oven (hello, turnip fries), boil them in soups or add them to comforting casseroles (creamy root vegetable gratin, anyone?). Or why not give classic mashed potatoes a twist by subbing in some turnips or rutabagas for your usual spuds? Think of it this way: Any place where a carrot or a potato would work, try a turnip or a rutabaga instead.
You’ll want to peel the skin off the vegetables before adding them to recipes. Use a peeler for turnips and a paring knife for rutabagas since these guys are usually sold coated with a layer of wax that keeps them from drying out. And that’s it! Bon appétit.