Tag Archives: what’s the difference between turnips and rutabagas?

And Now, Root Vegetables: The rutabaga vs the turnip

What is the difference, anyway?

What is the difference, anyway?

After yesterday’s topic of discussion (which has triggered quite the mind-bending conversation over in the comments) I feel the need to return to a subject that’s a tad easier to wrap my head around. What is the difference between a turnip and a rutabaga?


Behold the Mighty Rutabaga

When I posed this question to Dad he muttered, “Swedes?” and then something about cattle feed. According to Wikipedia, it’s common in the north of England (Dad’s original stomping grounds) to call a rutabaga (aka the ‘swede’ – from ‘Swedish turnip’) a turnip. Dad’s reference to cattle feed is a standard comment delivered whenever I mention certain easily grown vegetables which, apparently, were  deemed unfit for human consumption by Brits during WWII. Kale, collards, turnips, and parsnips are the main culprits and if the Queen would never deign to eat cattle food, then why should he? 



Unfit for human consumption isn’t quite right – it seems to have been more that things were so bad during the war people were reduced to eating fodder more often consumed by cattle and hogs. Though Dad now eats collard greens, turnips, and rutabags, he draws the line at kale. Steamed, baked, or served up as chips- kale remains in the cattle feed bucket as far as he’s concerned, regardless of kale’s current status as a super food.

Back to the question at hand, what is the difference between turnips and rutabagas?

According to Niki Jabour’s very good book,
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live I’m not the only one a bit confused about the exact differences. Both are in the cabbage family with bulbous roots and the varieties I’m familiar with sport the same colour scheme (white toward the root end and pink blooming into a deep purple toward the greens end). Turnips, though, are smaller and rounder (Niki harvests hers 6-8 weeks after seeding). Rutabagas are BIG (they can be up to six inches across) and take much longer to mature. In both cases,  you can eat the greens (we harvested all manner of brassica greens last year and sold them in our early goody boxes as braising greens – delicious!)

Niki suggests sowing turnips in cold frames late in the winter and then continuing to sow out in the garden from late April through mid-August. Rutabagas, on the other hand, she treats as a once a year crop, planted in early summer and harvested in the fall after 3-4 months of growth. Turnips can be eaten raw (I’ve never tried this, but Dad remembers snacking on them as a child… though if he called Swedes (actually rutabagas) turnips, then I’m not entirely sure what he called a turnip…) Rutabagas are generally cooked first.

Turnip v rutabaga - discrimination test - which is which?

Turnip v rutabaga – discrimination test – which is which?

We’ve used baby greens in salads but like most of the brassica family, they soon develop quite a strong taste and, when fully mature, can be bitter. Coat in butter or olive oil and add your savoury seasoning of choice and then sautee with garlic and perhaps a few onions and yum! A tasty veggie side dish.

I just stumbled across a recipe for mashed rutabagas and carrots, which I plan to try soon to take advantage of the gorgeous organic carrots Liz has been growing down at the end of the road. So good! We’ve been using them in salads, smoothies, and roasted  – mashed with rutabagas sounds like a cool addition to the list of carrot prep options.