Brassica napus var. napobrassica (L.) Rchb.
Rutabaga is also known as: Turnip rooted cabbage, Swedish Turnip, Swede, Neeps, Yellow turnip. It’s closely related to the turnip but turnips do not have the tell-tale concentric rings found in rutabaga.
The name rutabaga comes from the Swedish word ‘rotabagge‘, meaning round root. Although it’s called a root vegetable, it’s actually the swollen base of the stem, and the concentric rings at the tops are actually leaf scars.
Rutabaga probably evolved from a cross between the turnip and wild cabbage. It was first recorded in the seventeenth century when it was used for food and animal fodder in southern Europe (Wellness Encyclopedia). Rutabagas cannot withstand warm temperatures above 24ºC (75ºF) and are mostly grown in the northern US states and Canada and are harvested in fall and winter months.
They are large and round, with a rather lumpy and irregular shape, and a pale yellow skin. They have ridged scars forming concentric rings around their tops and a dark purple band at the crown.
The flesh is firm, usually yellow in colour, even though white fleshed varieties exist. It becomes deep yellow or orange when cooked. Rutabagas have a stronger and sweeter flavour than turnips and contain more beta carotene and vitamin C, and less water, which allows them to store better. They have a drier texture than turnips which tend to be watery.
- They can be eaten raw or cooked, but larger ones tend to have a strong assertive flavour. The strong flavour can be reduced by blanching in boiling water for 5 minutes before boiling, braising, baking or sir-frying. Just like the cabbage, rutabagas should not be overcooked.
- Their sweet, somewhat peppery flesh makes them an excellent side dish as well as a tasty addition to soups, salads and stews.
- Rutabagas have the capacity to absorb fat like the eggplant.
- The older, larger ones are better boiled and mashed.
- In Scotland, swedes (rutabagas) are more popular than turnips and are called ‘neeps’. A favourite Scottish dish is the ‘neep purry’ or bashed neeps, which are, mashed rutabagas, traditionally served with haggis.
- In The Netherlands, rutabaga is traditionally boiled and mashed, and served with smoked sausages.
They are available all year round because they store well, and peak in fall and winter, when they’re harvested.
- In store, rutabagas are often trimmed of their tap roots and tops, and coated with a thick layer of clear wax to prevent moisture loss.
- The skin should be free of major scars and bruises, and free of mould.
- Fresh rutabagas should feel firm and solid, never spongy.
- The best tasting are the small ones about 4-inches in diameter, which are also milder in taste than the larger ones.
- Larger ones tend to have a strong assertive flavour.
- The wax applied to rutabagas must be peeled along with the skin before cooking.
- Quarter the root, and peel with a paring knife rather than a vegetable peeler.
- Cut to desired size and shape depending on what you’re cooking.
Rutabagas can be stored at room temperature for about one week and in the fridge crisper for about two weeks or more, in a plastic bag.
Notes on Taxonomy
- var. napus comprising the oil-seed crops, including Canadian variety, canola oil (from the varieties napus and oleifera).
- var. pabularia (DC.) Rchb. comprising Siberian or rape kale which is used for the leaves which are cooked as a vegetable or for salads.
- var. napobrassica (L.) Rchb. comprising swede (rutabaga) used for the creamy white or yellow fleshy, turnip-like roots, which are used as a cooked vegetable, similar to turnips.
Last Updated: December 16, 2017