Rutabagas are in the mustard family and are a cross between turnips and cabbage. Since they grow well in cool weather and can be harvested into winter, they tend to be popular in northern countries.
The rutabaga is very similar to the turnip except that it generally has yellowish flesh, a denser root and smooth, waxy leaves similar to cabbage. While a purple and white turnip is usually two or three inches in diameter, rutabaga is twice that size. Rutabaga tends to be sweeter in flavor when left in the ground until after a frost
The leaves of rutabaga plants are edible and similar to turnip leaves but are thicker, like cabbage or kale leaves. Rutabagas often do not flower, but when they do, it is a small, yellow Brassica flower, with four petals that form a cross and give them their designation as cruciferous vegetables. They are typically planted in spring, but they can be planted in fall in warm climates.
Rutabagas are an excellent source of nutrients. One medium rutabaga provides:
- Calories: 143
- Carbs: 33 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
- Fat: 0.5 grams
- Fiber: 9 grams
- Vitamin C: 107% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Potassium: 35% of the DV
- Magnesium: 18% of the DV
- Calcium: 17% of the DV
- Vitamin E: 7% of the DV
Rutabagas provide a good amount of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins E and C. They also contain a moderate amount of folate, a B vitamin that’s important for metabolism, protein synthesis, and DNA replication.
Rutabagas also provide small amounts of phosphorus and selenium. Phosphorus is an important mineral for energy production and bone health, while selenium is essential for reproductive health.
Rutabagas are an excellent source of antioxidants, including vitamins C and E.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, which are harmful compounds that damage cells and lead to oxidative stress when levels become too high in your body. Vitamin C also plays key roles in immune health, iron absorption, and collagen synthesis. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that also fights cell damage and helps maintain a healthy cell membrane. Vitamins C and E work closely together. After vitamin E is depleted, vitamin C helps regenerate it.
Rutabagas also contain high amounts of glucosinolates, which are compounds with antioxidant properties. They have been shown to reduce inflammation and potentially even your risk of heart disease and colorectal, prostate, and breast cancer.
A recent study on 3D human skin models found that glucosinolates helped protect against UV damage.
Rutabagas are an excellent source of fiber. One medium rutabaga provides 9 grams of fiber, which is 24% and 36% of the recommended daily fiber intake for men and women, respectively.
Rutabagas are high in insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water. This type of fiber helps promote regularity and adds bulk to stool. Fiber also feeds gut bacteria, promoting a healthy microbiome. A diet high in fiber is linked to many health benefits, such as a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. A high-fiber diet is associated with a greater diversity of gut bacteria. Recent research has shown this connection is important for preventing long-term weight gain.
Rutabagas are a good source of potassium, which plays many important roles in your body and is especially important for heart health. One medium rutabaga provides 1,180 mg of potassium, which covers 35% of your daily needs for this nutrient. Potassium is important for nerve signaling and muscle contraction. It also works closely with sodium to regulate fluid balance, which is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure.
How to Buy
Rutabagas are in season October to March.
Look for rutabagas that feel heavy for their size with smooth, heavy and firm roots. The skin should be free of major damage although smaller cuts around the top are natural. Smaller rutabagas (4 inches in diameter or less) tend to have a sweeter flavor than larger varieties.
How to Store
Store rutabagas are room temperature for up to 1 week. Rutabagas will keep for months in a cool storage place. They store well in silicone bags in a refrigerator or cold cellar. Be sure to remove the leaves before storing the bulbs
How to Cook
Although rutabagas are related to turnips, they have a different flavor altogether. Rutabagas are sweeter and almost buttery when cooked. They are also excellent as a side dish when mashed or baked like fries. They are delicious roasted and are great in soup.
You can eat rutabagas raw or cook them similarly to how you cook potatoes, but be sure to peel the skin, as these vegetables usually have a protective wax coating. Leaves of the rutabaga can be added to salads or soups.
Raw rutabagas are crunchy and juicy. You can slice, cube, or grate them into all kinds of dishes and snacks.
Rutabagas have a sweet and slightly bitter flavor. Try them:
- boiled and mashed
- cut into fries and fried
- roasted in the oven
- added to a soup
- thinly sliced and added to a casserole
- grated raw into a salad
Rutabagas can replace potatoes, carrots, turnips, and other root vegetables in most recipes.