Turnip Greens 101 – The Basics
About Turnip Greens
Turnip greens are the top of the turnip plant. Sometimes they are referred to as “turnip tops.” Turnips are part of the plant family Brassica rapa. Like kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and collards, they are also part of the cruciferous plant family. There are a number of varieties of turnips, often with different color roots. The turnip root colors can be white, yellow/orange, purple, and half purple/half white.
Turnips are considered to be native to several areas, including the Middle East, parts of the Mediterranean, and Western and Eastern Asia. They were cultivated as early as 2,000 B.C. Over time, turnips were taken to Europe where they were eventually cultivated. Today, turnips are grown worldwide, including in the United States, mostly in California. Despite that, most of the turnips consumed in the United States are imported from Canada and Mexico. They have long been cultivated in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and parts of Asia, including China and Japan.
Nutrition and Health Benefits of Turnip Greens
Turnip greens are an excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin A (beta-carotene), Vitamin C, folate, copper, manganese, fiber, calcium, Vitamin E and Vitamin B6. They also contain a lot of potassium, magnesium, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B2, iron, phosphorus, Vitamin B1, omega-3 fatty acids, niacin and protein. One cup of cooked turnip greens has less than 30 calories.
Although not a lot of studies have been focused directly on turnip greens, they have been included in lists of cruciferous vegetables examined for their overall health benefits. So, a lot of the following information not only applies to turnip greens, but to other cruciferous vegetables as well.
High Vitamin and Mineral Content. Turnip greens, specifically, are very high in a number of vitamin and minerals that play important roles in our health and well-being. This alone makes turnip greens very valuable if you’re looking for ways to boost your nutrient intake from foods (AND reap the benefits from having done so).
Glucosinolate. Like other cruciferous vegetables, turnip greens are high in glucosinolates. These are unique sulfur-containing compounds that are linked to cancer prevention and detoxification.
Antioxidant Benefits. Turnip greens contain high amounts of a number of important antioxidant nutrients, namely Vitamin A, Vitamin E, manganese, and Vitamin C. These individual nutrients (along with other compounds in turnip greens like quercetin, lutein, and kaempferol) have been studied extensively for their roles in lowering oxidative stress and the risk of chronic diseases, such as atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Clearly, the benefits of eating turnip greens are long and should not be ignored. Include some in your meals whenever you can!
Blood Thinning Medications. If you currently take blood thinning medications such as Coumadin or Warfarin, be aware that turnip greens are high in Vitamin K, which would interfere with your medications. Check with your healthcare provider before making big changes to your diet.
How to Select Turnip Greens
Choose turnip greens that are unblemished, crisp, and deep green in color. The greens are usually sold separately from the roots, but some stores may sell them still attached.
How to Store Turnip Greens
If you have purchased turnip greens with the roots still attached, remove the greens from the roots, leaving about 1 inch of the stems still attached. If the greens are left attached to the roots, the greens will wilt rather quickly. Wrap the detached greens in a damp paper towel or cloth and place them loosely in a plastic bag. Store it in the refrigerator. You could also place your dry, unwashed greens in a plastic bag, seal it, and store it in the refrigerator. Turnip greens should be used within 4 to 7 days.
If your greens become wilted, set them upright in a bowl or glass of cold water. They should crisp back up in a few hours.
If you purchased turnip roots attached to greens, store the detached, unwashed and dry roots in a separate, sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. They should be used within 2 weeks.
How to Prepare Turnip Greens
Simply remove your greens from their packaging and wash them in cool water. Chop the leaves (and stems) into ½-inch slices, or as desired. Remove and discard any damaged pieces as you prepare the greens. Turnip greens are versatile. They may be eaten raw, boiled briefly, sautéed, steamed, stir-fried, braised, added to soups, stews, and casseroles, and even incorporated into lasagna!
How to Freeze Turnip Greens
Freezing turnip greens is not a hard process. Simply wash your greens well. Remove any woody stems and cut them into ¼-inch slices. Roll the leaves and cut them into ½-inch slices. Bring a pot of water to boil and place the prepared greens and stems in the boiling water. Set the timer immediately for 2 minutes. When the time is up, immediately transfer the vegetables to a bowl of ice water. Allow them to cool in the cold water for at least 2 minutes. Then drain them well and place your greens in a freezer bag or container. It is helpful to package the amount you would need for one meal in one container. Label them with the date and place them in the freezer. Use them within 12 months.
Tips for Removing Bitterness from Greens
1. Blanch them first before using them in a recipe. This works best with hardy greens such as collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, and kale. A lot of the bitterness will leach out in the blanching water. Discard the water then proceed with your recipe as usual.
- Pair the greens with strongly flavored ingredients. Bacon, sausage, garlic, something spicy or even sweet like roasted squash or dried fruit can counter the bitterness in greens by balancing it with another flavor.
- Add an acid. Vinegar or citrus juice (especially lemon juice) is well known for countering bitterness in greens. Drizzle the greens with the vinegar or juice at the end of cooking and lightly stir it in. The flavor of the greens will “brighten” and the bitterness will diminish.
- Add a bit of salt, or a salty ingredient. Added salt, or an added salty ingredient, will tame bitterness in many foods, including greens and radicchio. Anchovies, sausage, bacon, salted nuts, or even stock of choice will add some salt to the greens and help to reduce bitterness.
- Braise the greens. Slow braising helps to soften greens like collards, kale, mustard and turnip greens while removing bitterness.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Turnip Greens
* Try adding a little balsamic vinegar to your cooked greens for a touch of sweetness and a little acid to counter any remaining bitterness.
* Try using raw or slightly blanched turnip greens in place of other greens in your favorite pesto. You could also use mixed greens to balance flavors in your pesto.
* For a really simple and fast way to cook turnip greens, sauté a little onion and garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil or stock of choice. When the aromatics start to soften, toss in your greens. Add a tablespoon or two of water or more stock when needed to keep them from drying out. Season them with a little salt, pepper, and chile pepper flakes, if desired. Sauté the greens until they are lightly cooked and wilted. When finished, drizzle the juice from a lemon wedge onto your cooked greens and lightly toss to combine. Enjoy!
* Try adding some chopped turnip greens to your favorite soup.
* Add chopped turnip greens to a stew.
* Season sauteed turnip greens with a little soy sauce, lemon and cayenne pepper.
* Enjoy a Southern-style meal and enjoy cooked turnip greens with beans and rice.
* Try sautéed turnip greens, sweet potato and tofu, served over a bed of rice.
* Try adding a mixture of steamed turnip greens and spinach to layers of lasagna.
* To keep the most nutritional value of your turnip greens, don’t overcook them. Cook them for as brief a time as you can, and with as little liquid as possible. This will help to maintain their extraordinary nutritional profile.
* For a healthy way to prepare turnip greens, cut them into ½-inch strips and steam them over boiling water for 5 minutes. Toss them with a vinaigrette dressing of (3 Tbsp) olive oil, (1 Tbsp) lemon juice, (1 medium clove) fresh crushed garlic, and a little salt and pepper to taste. Top the greens with other favorite salad ingredients.
Herbs/Spices That Go Well with Turnip Greens
Cayenne, chile pepper flakes, coriander, cumin, curry powder, mint, mustard, nutmeg, parsley, saffron, sage, salt, tarragon, thyme, turmeric
Foods That Go Well with Turnip Greens
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Bacon, beans (in general), black-eyed peas, chickpeas, eggs, ham, pecans, pork, sausage, sesame seeds, tofu, turkey, walnuts
Vegetables: Chiles, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips
Fruits: Apples, coconut, lemons (juice, zest), lime, olives, orange
Grains and Grain Products: Bread crumbs, grains (in general), noodles, pasta, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (esp. Parmesan, pecorino), coconut milk, cream
Other Foods: Miso, mustard (Dijon), oil (esp. olive, sesame), soy sauce, stock, vinegar (esp. apple cider), wine (dry white)
Turnip Greens Have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Asian cuisines, European cuisines, pasta dishes, salads, soups, Southern (U.S.) cuisine, stir-fries, stews
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Turnip Greens
Combine turnip greens with any of the following combinations…
Garlic + lemon + olive oil + onions
Pasta + white beans
Smothered Greens https://extension.purdue.edu/foodlink/recipe.php?recipe=Smothered%20Greens
Turnip and Farro Salad with Greens https://cedarcirclefarm.org/recipes/entry/turnip-and-farro-salad-with-greens
How to Cook Turnip Greens [Southern Turnip Greens] https://cookingbride.com/side-dishes/turnip-greens/
Tempeh and Turnip Green Soup https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/tempeh-and-turnip-green-soup/
Healthy and Delicious Southern Turnip Greens https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/236280/healthy-and-delicious-southern-turnip-greens/
Indian-Style Fragrant Buttered Greens with Potatoes https://food52.com/recipes/621-indian-style-fragrant-buttered-greens-with-potatoes
Italian Turnip Greens https://tastykitchen.com/recipes/sidedishes/italian-turnip-greens/
Wilted Turnip Tops with Roast Roots https://www.theguardian.com/food/2018/sep/29/turnip-leaf-italian-root-vegetable-waste-not
Turnip Soup with Turnip Greens https://www.thespruceeats.com/turnip-soup-with-its-turnip-greens-2217439
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. (1993) So Easy to Preserve. 3rd ed. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.