Turnips are root vegetables that are most commonly grown in temperate climates. There are several different kinds of turnip. The smaller, more tender kind are popular staples of the European diet, while bigger varieties tend to be used as feed for farm animals.

In Scotland and northern England, the term “turnip” is often used to refer to a large yellow root vegetable which is known in other regions as the swede. In other parts of the world, the term refers to a conical or global root vegetable with a mostly white skin and some leaves which grow on the shoulder of the root. There is little or no “crown” to the vegetable. Both the root and the leaves are edible, and the leaves are a popular side dish in the south-east of America.


The History of the Turnip

There is some evidence to suggest that the turnip was grown as a domestic crop as early as the 15th century BC. The crop was grown by Indian tribes because it produced oil-bearing seeds. It was a well-established and popular crop in the Hellenistic and Roman times, and historians believe that the crop was cultivated earlier, although to date they have found no archaeological evidence to support this theory.

Today, there are many different varieties of turnip, as well as the related mustard and radish crops, grown all over Europe and Asia. It is difficult to trace the movement of each of these crops, so historians are forced to guess based purely on the names given to each vegetable.

The turnip grows best in cool climates. Hot temperatures tend to cause the roots of the vegetable to become woody and to taste bad. It takes just three or four months for the vegetable to grow large enough to be harvested.



There is no need to peel a young turnip, but older ones should be peeled. After peeling them, slice or dice them before cooking. This will ensure that they cook through evenly. Do not overcook them. An overcooked turnip will disintegrate and will lose its texture and taste.

Turnip has quite a strong flavour, and most people do not eat them alone. It is often mashed and consumed with other vegetables, with butter added to make the mash taste creamy.

A fresh turnip will keep for a long time as long as it is stored in the refrigerator. You can tell when a turnip has gone bad because it will start to dry out and crack.


Turnip Nutrition Information

The root of the turnip is rich in vitamin C. The leaves are rich in vitamins A, C and K as well as folate and calcium. They are also a good source of lutein. The root also contains small amounts of zinc, calcium, iron and several of the B vitamins.

While the nutritional profile of turnips may not make them seem as impressive as some of the modern superfoods, their value should not be underestimated. Compared to, say, the humble potato, it is a great food choice. It is not particularly calorie-dense, it does not aggravate the digestive system and it contains several important vitamins and minerals.

Zinc, for example, is thought to be useful for boosting the immune system. The conventional wisdom which dictates that vitamin C is the nutrient of choice for people nursing a cold is now thought to be incorrect. Loading up on vitamin C will not help you to get rid of the common cold more quickly. However, making a point of getting enough zinc in your daily diet could help you to fend off those colds in the first place. Some recent studies suggest that supplementing zinc when you get the first initial symptoms of an illness could provide the immune system with the boost that it needs to fend off the illness.

Iron is another important nutrient. Most people get iron from red meat, but if you aren’t a big meat eater, then eating vegetables that contain notable amounts of iron will help you to fend of anaemia, and will give your body the supply of iron it needs to maintain a healthy circulatory system.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help to stave off the effects of aging, and that is important for many processes within the body. Calcium is used to maintain healthy teeth and bones, and the B vitamins play an important role in your cellular metabolism.

Fibre is used to keep your digestive system healthy. Most people who follow western diets get fibre from grains, but if you are living a Paleo lifestyle you will not be able to do this. Green, leafy vegetables are a good source of fibre, as are roots such as the turnip. Fibre can indirectly help with weight loss too, because it helps you to feel full for longer between meals, stopping you from feeling the urge to snack on calorie-dense foods.


Other Varieties

The baby turnip is a small root vegetable that is white in colour and lacks the large leaves of bigger versions of the vegetable. It tends to taste sweeter than a large turnip. Other related vegetables include the jicama, a crisp, sweet edible root vegetable, and the black salsify, a root that is member of the sunflower family.


Turnips and the Paleo Diet

Root vegetables are an important part of the Paleo diet, providing a source of vitamins, fibre and carbohydrates. The Paleo diet is a long-term lifestyle choice that involves eating a diet that is as close to nature as possible. Paleo diet followers are advised to eat foods that their caveman ancestors ate. This means that they avoid processed foods, out-of-season fruits, grains, potatoes and other foods that people would not have eaten thousands of years ago.

Turnips offer a filling and satisfying source of energy and nutrients, and can be enjoyed mashed, roasted, steamed or boiled as a part of a main meal. Other foods in the same family, such as radishes, are often consumed in salads.

photo credit: Clagett Farm CSA 2008 Week 5 via photopin (license)