Turnips are a root vegetable and member of the cruciferous family, along with other vegetables like bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and kale. They’re one of the world’s most important vegetable crops, as they’re used to feed both humans and cattle
Turnips are native to middle and eastern Asia, and thrive best in cool spring and fall weather, growing up to 1.5 feet high, with long and slender hairy leaves. The most common types of turnip are purple, red, or greenish on the outside and have a white-fleshed bulb which grows above the ground and has a smooth skin without scars or side roots. The larger the turnip, the tougher its texture and the stronger its flavor.
Turnips have an excellent nutritional profile. Like other cruciferous vegetables, they’re low in calories but have plenty of vitamins and minerals.
A 1-cup serving of cubed raw turnips contains:
- Calories: 36
- Carbs: 8 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Vitamin C: 30% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Folate: 5% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 3% of the DV
- Calcium: 3% of the DV
The leaves contain even higher nutrient quantities, with 1 cup of chopped turnip greens providing:
- Calories: 18
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Vitamin K: 115% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 37% of the DV
- Provitamin A: 35% of the DV
- Folate: 27% of the DV
- Calcium: 8% of the DV
Both the roots and leaves are great sources of vitamin C which improves iron absorption and helps regulate blood cholesterol. Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis, as well as for scavenging free radicals that may increase the risk of cancer and inflammation-related diseases.
Turnip greens are rich in the fat-soluble vitamins K and A, the type that your body absorbs better when consumed with fats. Vitamin K plays an essential role as a clotting agent, meaning that it helps prevent excessive bleeding. Vitamin A is vital for eye, skin, and lung health.
The leaves contain contain folate, calcium and potassium, as well as trace amounts of riboflavin, pantothenic acid, thiamin, copper, manganese and iron. Turnips also have flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol, which may help lower your risk for oxidative stress. Folate is important for the production of red blood cells and helps prevent developmental irregularities in fetuses.
Turnip greens have antioxidants, too, such as lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. Plus, they’re a source of magnesium, which is “a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body,” according to an article in the journal Nutrients.
There are plant compounds in turnip which have health-promoting effects. One example is brassinin, a type of indole compound which was found to help reduce your risk for colorectal and lung cancer. According to a tissue culture study published in the March 2012 issue of the International Journal of Oncology, brassinin may help kill human colon cancer cells. This was also the first study that determined the particular stage of cancer cell growth that the turnip compound affected.
Glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds found in turnip sprouts, may have anticancer, antifungal, antiparasitic and antibacterial benefits. According to the November 2012 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, turnips have the second highest level of glucosinates (next to white mustard sprouts) among nine different cruciferous vegetables studied. Numerous studies have linked higher intakes of glucosinolates with a reduced risk of different types of cancer, including lung, colon, and rectal cancers.
Turnips’ glucosinolates also break down into isothiocyanates, a group of compounds capable of inhibiting microbial and bacterial growth. Studies have found that isothiocyanates fight common disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coliand S. aureus. One test-tube study determined that isothiocyanates from cruciferous vegetables had an antibacterial effect of up to 87% against antibiotic resistant strains of S. aureus.
Researchers have conducted test-tube and animal studies to evaluate the potential effect of combining isothiocyanates with standard antibiotics.The results suggest that together, they may exert a more significant effect in controlling bacterial growth.
Turnips contain high amounts of flavonoids, mainly anthocyanins, another type of antioxidant with proven anticancer effects. Anthocyanins are present in blue and purple fruits and vegetables, such as turnips, and eating them is linked to lower rates of chronic and degenerative diseases.
How to Buy
Look for turnips that are heavy for their size and still have fresh leaves attached if possible. Small to medium size turnips are sweetest. Avoid turnips that are large, have soft spots, or leaf scars.
Turnips are available all year but their peak season is fall to early winter.
How to Store
Store turnips wrapped in a moist cloth or paper towel in placed in a cloth bag in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Turnips will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 months. Store turnips greens just as you would turnip roots.
How to Cook
Turnips have a distinct “hot” flavor that complements many dishes. They can be roasted, baked, mashed or mixed with cherry tomatoes and olives to make a delicious appetizer. You can also mix them in stews alongside vegetables like carrots and kohlrabi.
Before cooking or serving turnip, make sure you clean it thoroughly by scrubbing the skin with a vegetable brush under running water. It has a great crunch and texture, so make sure not to overcook. Don’t throw away the leafy green tops — they are actually rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
Turnips can be eaten both cooked or raw, and turnip greens make a great addition to salads.
Here are some ways to incorporate turnips into your diet:
- Add some boiled turnips to your mashed potato recipe.
- Thinly slice and bake them to prepare crunchy turnip chips.
- Mix cubed turnips with potatoes and carrots when grilling or roasting vegetables.
- Add some grated turnips to coleslaw for a more flavorful version.
- Sauté turnips and turnip greens for a healthy side of veggies.
Turnips are very easy to cook with, and adding them to some of your favorite dishes will surely enhance their nutritional value.