Rutabagas are only called rutabagas in the U.S. Throughout the rest of the world, they're known as swedes. This ordinary root vegetable is thought to have originated in Bohemia in the 17th century as a hybrid between the turnip and wild cabbage.
Members of the cabbage family, rutabagas are often confused with turnips, although there are noticeable differences. Rutabagas are larger, part white and part purple, with creamy orange flesh and ribs near the stem, and with a sweet flavor when roasted. Meanwhile, turnips are white with a purple-red top and a peppery taste. Perpetuating the confusion, other names for the rutabaga include Swedish turnip and Russian turnip.
A cool-weather crop that stores easily, rutabagas are grown primarily in the northern United States, Europe, Great Britain, and Canada, requiring about 90 days to reach full size. Their flavor is only enhanced by light frost, which is probably how they got their European moniker, having prolific growth in Sweden.
Nutty and sweet with a mild turnip-like flavor, rutabagas can be roasted, sautéed, baked, fried, boiled, mashed, and added to soups and stews. They also can be eaten raw as a snack or grated into salads or coleslaw. A mix of mashed rutabagas, potatoes, onions, and carrots, seasoned with butter and salt, is a hearty, warming dish.
The brassica napus has a few subspecies, including rapeseed, the leaves used as forage crops for livestock and the seeds made into oil. Canola, a variant of this plant, was developed in Canada in the late 1970s for (what was thought to be) a more nutritious source of vegetable oil than rapeseed.
Health Benefits of Rutabaga
All crucifers (brassicas or cole crops) are high in antioxidant and anti-cancer compounds. The anti-cancer properties of these vegetables are so well established that the American Cancer Society recommends that Americans increase their intake of cruciferous vegetables.
Rutabaga's most significant nutrient comes from vitamin C. One cup contains 53% of the daily recommended value, providing antioxidants and immune system-supporting functions that help protect the cells from free radical damage. Although rutabagas provide only 5% of the iron needed for healthy blood on a daily basis, vitamin C enhances its absorption, while helping to form both collagen and the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which protect cells against damage, encourage wounds to heal, fight infections, and promote healthy bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels.
Beta-carotene-rich rutabagas are also an excellent source of potassium and manganese (for energy), and a good source of fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6 (helps support the nervous system), calcium (for strong bones), magnesium (helps absorb calcium and combat stress), and phosphorus (helps metabolize proteins and sugars).
Rutabaga Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Studies Done on Rutabaga
The most common cancer among American men, prostate cancer ranks second in cancer death causes, after lung cancer. Results of one study suggested that a diet rich in vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables such as rutabagas, is linked to a reduced prostate cancer risk.1
A significant association between ingestion of brassica vegetables and incidence of colorectal cancer was shown in both men and women, with fewer tumors in women associated with eating Brassica vegetables.2
How to Cook Rutabaga
Although it can be eaten raw, cooking rutabaga will make you enjoy this root vegetable more. When cooked, it releases a sweet yet savory flavor – like a rich golden potato, but less starchy and more satisfying. Before cooking rutabaga, though, you must learn how to peel it. Here’s what you should do:
- Wash the rutabaga thoroughly to remove any dirt.
- Put the rutabaga on a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, slice it in half. Cut through the central stalk, so you’ll have two halves that can be easily laid flat on the board. This can be difficult (especially for inexperienced chefs), since the rutabaga’s oval surface makes it hard to stabilize the fruit for cutting. Hold the knife properly so it will not slip.
- Turn each of the rutabaga on the flat side, and then cut into half-inch thick semicircles. You can discard the first and last piece, as they are covered in thicker skin.
- Remove the outer skin of each semicircular piece using a paring knife. Lay each piece flat and cut into cubes.
You can now use the peeled rutabaga cubes in your recipes. Make sure to check them frequently as they cook, as they may overcook and disintegrate. Try these methods to cook rutabaga:
- Boiling: Put the rutabaga pieces in a pot of boiling water with a small amount of stevia or honey to taste. Cooking time is approximately 10 minutes.
- Stir-fry: Sautee the diced rutabaga (or cut them into strips) in coconut oil for about seven minutes.
- Baking: Place the sliced or diced rutabaga in a shallow baking dish, sprinkle with a few tablespoons of water and bake in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176.6 degrees Celsius) for an hour or until tender.
- Mashing: Fill a pot with water, put in the rutabagas and a bit of salt and let it boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Once cooked, drain the chunks and use a potato masher to mash them evenly. Add a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon or a few tablespoons of raw butter to taste.
Rutabaga Healthy Recipes:
Autumn Harvest Soup
|1 butternut or acorn squash, cut in half
||3 garlic cloves, ends removed but skin intact
||2 cups rutabaga, peeled and diced
||1½ - 2 cups sweet potato, peeled and diced
||1 tsp. salt
||½ tsp. pepper
||1 small onion, chopped
|¾ cup cashews
||2½ cups Blue Diamond coconut milk
||2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
||½ tsp. nutmeg
|1 tsp. thyme
- Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit. Rub the squash with oil and place cut-side down on a baking sheet.
- Cut ends off garlic, coat with 1 tsp. oil, and wrap in aluminum foil, then coat the rutabaga and sweet potato in oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Add both to baking sheet. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until softened, stirring diced veggies once.
- Sauté onion until soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes.
- Remove roasted veggies from oven and blend all of the above in a food processor until smooth. The nuts may remain grainy, but that's okay. Add water as desired to reach preferred thickness. Serves 4.
Rutabaga Fun Facts
A 30-year gardener in the UK claimed a place in the book of Guinness World Records in 2011 with the world's largest root vegetable, a swede (rutabaga) weighing in at a whopping 85.5 pounds.
Rutabagas, known as swedes in much of the world, are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, and manganese, and a good source of fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. All these provide such a combination of nutritional benefits as to promote healthy function throughout the body, while protecting from heart disease and cancer. In fact, clinical studies show that colorectal and prostate cancers can be diminished by ingesting healthy amounts of brassica vegetables, such as rutabaga.
If rutabaga is a new vegetable for you, give it a try roasted or sautéed with raw butter, salt and pepper, or processed for a delicious, creamy sauce.