What's the Difference Between a Turnip and a Rutabaga?

Rutabaga and Turnips
Rutabaga and Turnips. Photo: Diana Rattray

The turnip and the rutabaga are both members of the cabbage family, Brassica, but the rutabaga is thought to be an ancient cross between a turnip and a cabbage, a hybrid.

Turnips are usually white or white and purple while rutabagas are yellowish, but there are yellow turnips and white rutabagas.Rutabagas are slightly sweeter tasting than turnips. The most obvious visible difference between them is that turnips for food are harvested when small and tender.

They get woody when they get bigger. Rutabagas stay tender at larger sizes, so they are often harvested at a larger size. So, the big yellow ones are rutabagas, and the smaller white and purple ones are turnips. Choose either one by whether they are firm and feel a bit heavy for their size.

The scientific name for the rutabaga is Brassica napobrassica. They are also called "Swedes" or Swedish turnips, yellow turnips, and "neeps". The Scots make a dish called "tatties and neeps" which is potatoes and rutabagas mashed separately and served with haggis. Use rutabagas in casseroles, soups, and stews.

The earliest reference rutabagas in print was in 1620 when it was noted that it could be found growing wild in Sweden. Its origin is given as either Scandinavia or Russia. Rutabagas first appeared in North America in about 1817 where they were reportedly being grown in Illinois.

The scientific name for turnips is Brassica rapa.

Turnips are used similarly to rutabagas, boiled, in salads, soups and casseroles. The larger ones are used as livestock feed. Turnips are made into pickles in the Middle East.

Turnips are used in herbal medicine to lower body temperature.  There is evidence that the turnip was first cultivated before the 15th century BC, where it was grown in India for its oil-bearing seeds.

In the west, the turnip was an established crop in the golden ages of Greece and Rome.

Some Recipes Using Turnips or Rutabagas

Turnip Puff

Autumn Vegetable Beef Stew

Pot Roast With Garden Vegetables

Lamb Stew

See Also

Freezing Vegetables - Turnip

Freezing Vegetables - Rutabaga

Slow Cooker Recipes

Main Recipe Index

Southern Food Home