Parsnip: The ‘Carrot Alternative’ You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Mother Nature offers thousands of vegetables, each with their own nutrients that provide various health benefits. Naturally, some of them become quite popular in dishes, such as tomatoes, broccoli, kale, onions and cabbages. But what about the other vegetables that are not often given the same attention, though they are equally healthy? The parsnip is one example that fits that description perfectly.
What Is a Parsnip?
Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a biennial plant, which means that it blooms on its second year and then dies afterwards.1 It is a member of the Apaiaceae family, which also includes the carrot, dill, cumin, parsley and caraway. Parsnip has such a very strong resemblance to the carrot so much so that many confuse the two. The only difference is that carrot is typically orange, while parsnip has a lighter color hue.2
Historically, parsnip has been cultivated by ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans. However, there are not many details to be found, because at one point, they were categorized as carrots (pastinaca) due to their similar appearances.3
Parsnip is typically planted before the winter season because that’s the time it produces its unique, sweet flavor. A fully mature parsnip plant can grow up to a height of 1.5 meters tall (leaves and vegetable included). It’s a favorite among gardeners who favor cultivating crops with short growing seasons.4
What Are the Benefits of Parsnip?
Recent studies on parsnip have shed light on some of its health benefits. The most prominent ones you should take note of include:5
• Improved Heart Health
Parsnip contains a generous amount of potassium, which acts as a vasodilator (a compound that prevents arteries and veins from tightening6), thereby reducing blood pressure and stress on your heart. It also contains folate, which helps reduce homocysteine levels in your blood that are linked to heart disease.
• Good Source of Fiber
Parsnip is known for being a great source of soluble fiber, which can help reduce your bad cholesterol levels and risk of diabetes. In addition, it can help improve your digestive health by helping food move smoothly through your intestines, which can help reduce constipation and other common digestive disorders.
• Reduced Risk of Birth Defects
The folate in parsnip is known to help reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects in infants. It is also linked to lower levels of depression, and may even help mothers with newborn infants cope with postpartum depression.
• Help in Weight Management
The soluble fiber in parsnip can help you feel full longer and prevents the release of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone. In essence, it can help you reduce the volume of food you eat throughout the day, thereby helping you maintain your weight.
• Gives the Immune System a Boost
Parsnip contains vitamins C and E, which can help rid your body of free radicals that can potentially cause various diseases. Vitamin C can also help produce white blood cells to boost your immune system and ward off foreign microbes.
How to Grow Parsnip in Your Garden
The great thing about growing parsnip is that it is a hardy plant, and it can survive the cold winter months without much of a problem. The tips below will help you if you’re looking to grow parsnip in the comfort of your own home.
When starting to plant parsnip, remember that you should always sow fresh seeds to cultivate the best harvest. Place two seeds per inch, one-half inch deep into the soil. But before you place the seeds, make sure the soil is loosened up to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, because parsnip can reach that length as it grows downward. Finally, add in a layer of compost, around 2 to 4 inches on the soil bed. In roughly two to three weeks, seedlings will emerge.8
Parsnip seedlings usually take 16 weeks to mature. They’ll be ready for harvesting when the foliage is just starting to die down in the late summer or autumn. You can also leave a few plants during the winter months so you still have enough parsnip to eat during the cold season. In addition, lightly frosted roots typically produce the best flavor.9
As the seedlings mature, you need to thin them and provide 3 to 6 inches of space between each other to encourage a healthy yield. Also, if you plan to leave some parsnip on the ground during and after winter, cover them with mulch and harvest them immediately once the snow thaws.10
You need to watch out for a few diseases when growing parsnip, such as a carrot fly infestation. A carrot fly is small, has a black body, and its larvae feed on carrot roots. Once larvae have burrowed into a parsnip, you need to throw out the destroyed crop. You can prevent an infestation by surrounding your plants with a 2-foot high polythene barrier.11
Parsnip canker is another problem you need to be on the lookout for, which is basically a term for a rotting parsnip plant. It usually occurs due to drought, over-rich soil or damage by poor handling. To prevent parsnip canker, simply be careful with your plant’s maintenance and ensure proper soil irrigation.12
How to Cook Parsnip
Cooking parsnip is similar to cooking a carrot. Here are a few methods you can try:
- Baking: Slice a parsnip into fries, and then bake them for a healthy alternative to French fries.13
- Roasting: Sliced roasted parsnips and carrots make for a great side dish to meat-based dishes.14
- Frying: Chop a parsnip into cubes and fry them in coconut oil to make a healthy hash brown.15
- Add to your soup: Blend a parsnip with other vegetables and spices to make a hearty, nutritious soup.16
Before you cook with parsnip though, you must learn how to choose the best ones to get the best flavor. Always go for firm small or medium parsnips, because large parsnips are more fibrous and difficult to cook. Avoid those with lots of whiskers and brown patches because these typically indicate a poor-quality harvest. Ideally, you should obtain your parsnip from a certified organic farmer.17
Winter Parsnip Soup
✓ 2 Tbsp. of raw, organic grass-fed butter (organic coconut oil may be used as well)
✓ Approximately 2½ of cups thin, young parsnips, peeled and diced into bite-sized chunks (larger parsnips are tougher and not as sweet)
✓ 1 quart vegetable, chicken or beef stock
✓ Himalayan salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
✓ 1 large onion, diced
✓ 2 tsp. of curry powder (2 tsp. will give a medium spice level)
✓ 1 tsp. of cumin
✓ 1½ cups of raw, homemade sour cream
- Heat up the butter in a medium-sized soup pot.
- Add in the diced onion and stir until soft.
- Mix in the parsnips and sauté for a couple minutes, until they begin to soften.
- Stir in the curry powder and cumin, and sauté for half a minute to marry the spices with the veggies and the butter.
- Pour in the stock of choice.
- Add salt and black pepper to taste, and stir well.
- Bring soup briefly to a boil, then turn down heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes.
- Add in the sour cream and blend the soup well, using an immersion blender if available.
- Check and adjust the seasonings (salt and black pepper). Serve.
Parsnip is a nutrition powerhouse. The table below provides an overview of the various nutrients it provides:18
|Calories from Fat||3|
|Total Fat||0 g||0%|
|Saturated Fat||0 g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrates||18 g||6%|
|Dietary Fiber||5 g||20%|
|Vitamin A 0%||Vitamin C||28%|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
- 1 Gardening Know How “Biennial Plant Information: What Does Biennial Mean”
- 2 New World Encyclopedia “Parsnip”
- 3 See reference II
- 4 See reference II
- 5 Organic Facts, “Health Benefits of Parsnips”
- 6 Mayo Clinic, “Vasodilators”
- 7 Massachusetts General Hospital, “Folic Acid and Risk of Perinatal Depression: Is There an Association?”
- 8 The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Parsnips”
- 9 Royal Horticultural Society, “Parsnips”
- 10 See reference VII
- 11 See reference VIII
- 12 See reference VIII
- 13 Bon Appétit, “Baked Parsnip Fries With Rosemary” March 2012
- 14 Food Network, “Roasted Parsnip With Carrots”
- 15 Good Food, “Parsnip Hash Browns”
- 16 Good Food, “Spiced Parsnip & Cauliflower Soup”
- 17 Good Food, “Parsnip”
- 18 Self Nutrition Data, Parsnip