Everything you ever wanted to know about rutabagas

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…is a root vegetable that belongs to the cabbage family. Likely the result of a cross between a wild cabbage and a turnip, rutabagas are larger, rounder and denser than turnips, with yellow and purple skin and white or yellow flesh.

They have crisp, juicy flesh and a sweet, slightly bitter flavor. A cool-weather crop, rutabagas’ peak season is September through June.

Rutabagas are thought to have originated in Bohemia in the Czech Republic, but they have been grown in the United States since the 1800s, primarily in northern parts of the country. High in fiber, the root vegetable also offers a wide range of other nutritional benefits, including potassium and 53 percent of the daily-recommended value of vitamin C.

As magnesium gets more attention in nutrition circles, it’s helpful to know that rutabagas also offer 10 percent of the daily recommended value of the important mineral, which helps regulate temperature, build bones and release energy from muscles. Rutabagas also contain carotenoids, which are converted in the body to form vitamin A for healthy vision.

Types and Varieties

American Purple Top is a common variety found in the U.S. The top half is purple, while the lower half is light yellow but turns orange when cooked.

Laurentian is a smaller variety that has cream/yellow skin and a burgundy top. It has a mildly sweet taste and a firm texture, making it ideal for baking.

Joan is a variety that has a uniformly round shape and yellow skin topped by purple. It has dense, sweet flesh that intensifies after a frost.

Magres has a light-yellow bottom, purple top and yellow flesh. It is the ideal variety for culinary use as it is not bitter.

Selecting and Storing

  • Look for rutabagas with smooth skin and without bruises or cuts. They should feel heavy for their size.
  • Store rutabagas in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a month.
  • Rutabagas purchased in the grocery store are sometimes waxed to protect against moisture loss and increase shelf life.
  • Early, small roots are tenderer. Frost sweetens the flavor of mature roots.

Culinary Uses

  • Peel rutabagas with a sturdy vegetable peeler to remove skin and wax. Wash under cold, running water; cut as necessary.
  • Overcooked rutabagas may disintegrate.
  • Add rutabagas to soups, stews and casseroles, or puree with mashed potatoes.
  • Eat rutabagas raw as a snack or grate into salads and slaws. Slice and bake like French fries.
  • Rutabagas can be combined with carrots, potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables for a healthy stew.

Interesting Facts

  • The world’s largest root vegetable is a rutabaga weighing 85.5 pounds, grown by Ian Neale in the United Kingdom, in 2011.
  • Rutabaga is associated in some countries with food shortages in World War I and World War II. Boiled rutabaga was common during times of famine.
  • The word “rutabaga” comes from the Swedish word rotabagge, meaning “root bag.”
  • Rutabaga leaves are edible, but tough.
  • Rutabagas ripen best in cool autumn weather, and their flavor is enhanced after the first frost.