Rutabagas 101 – The Basics (UPDATE)


Rutabagas 101 – The Basics (UPDATE)

About Rutabagas
Rutabagas are root vegetables that are members of the cruciferous family. They are called rutabagas mostly in North America. Elsewhere around the world they are known as swedes. They may also be called yellow turnips or neeps.

Their origin remains a mystery, but many people believe they are native to Scandinavia and Russia, and are believed to be a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. Their skin is yellowish at the root end, and purple toward the stem end. They look very much like turnips with pale yellow flesh. The flavor of rutabaga is peppery and slightly bitter when raw, but it becomes creamy and sweet when roasted.

Not only is the root of the plant edible, but the leafy greens are also used as food in various cultures. The leaves are eaten like many other leafy greens, such as collards and kale. The root (rutabaga) can be eaten raw or prepared in a number of ways, including like potatoes, being roasted or cooked and mashed. It may also be used as a filler in casseroles and even mincemeat.

Nutrition and Health Benefits
Rutabagas are high in many nutrients which gives them a number of associated potential health benefits. They are exceptionally high in Vitamin C, with 1 cup of cooked rutabaga providing over 1/3 of the daily recommended intake of this important vitamin. They also contain a lot of Vitamin B1, fiber, folate, Vitamin B6, choline, niacin, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B2, Vitamin E, manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, and even some calcium, iron and zinc.

Anti-Cancer Properties. Like other cruciferous vegetables, rutabagas are high in glucosinolates, sulfur-containing antioxidant compounds that are broken down during digestion into other health-promoting phytonutrients. These compounds include a variety of isothiocyanates that have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help to boost the immune system and reduce the risk of heart disease and various types of cancer.

Boosts Immunity. The high level of Vitamin C found in rutabagas makes them a valuable food to include in the diet. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that is known for disarming free radicals, which are harmful molecules that damage healthy cells causing oxidative stress and leading to disease. Vitamin C also stimulates the production of white blood cells. These cells are valuable in protecting us from invading pathogens such as viruses and bacteria, thereby preventing illness.

In addition to boosting immunity, Vitamin C is also used in the production of collagen, which is important in the repair and maintenance of skin tissue, muscles, and blood vessels.

Rutabagas also contain a good supply of Vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant. Like Vitamin C, Vitamin E also fights cell damage, helping to maintain healthy cell membranes. Vitamins C and E work closely together, with Vitamin C helping to regenerate Vitamin E when it is depleted. This helps to provide continual protection for our cells.

Bowel Health. Rutabagas are an excellent source of fiber, with one medium rutabaga providing around one-fourth of the suggested daily fiber intake for adults. They are high in insoluble fiber, which provides bulk to the stool and promotes healthy bowel function. This not only prevents constipation, but also lowers the risk of colorectal cancer and other bowel diseases, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

Cardiovascular Protection. Rutabagas also supply a lot of potassium, with one medium rutabaga providing about one-third of our daily needs. Potassium helps to lower blood pressure by relaxing vessels. The potassium, along with the fiber in rutabagas, work together to help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.

Supports Bone Health. The vast array of minerals found in rutabagas work together to help keep bones healthy and strong. This reduces the risk of osteoporosis, a common age-related disorder plagued by many senior adults.

How to Select a Rutabaga
Look for rutabagas that are smaller rather than larger, since the smaller ones will be more tender. Choose ones that are 5-inches or less in diameter to avoid those that are tough and fibrous. Avoid ones with punctures, cracks, bruises, soft spots, or wrinkles. Most of the time, the roots will be covered with a protective wax coating which helps to extend their shelf life. However, you might find them unwaxed when they are in season, from late fall through winter.

How to Store Rutabagas
Store rutabagas in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, or in a cold cellar. They may keep for up to a month or longer, depending upon how fresh they were when purchased. If the leaves are still attached, they should be removed before storing the root to prevent it from drying out. Wrap the leaves in a slightly damp paper towel or cotton cloth, then place that loosely in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator. Use the leaves as soon as possible.

How to Prepare Rutabagas
Rutabagas should be washed, then peeled with a sturdy vegetable peeler or a paring knife. When using a knife, it can be helpful to first trim a slice off the bottom so it can rest steadily when being trimmed. Once the rutabaga has been peeled, it can be cut into any shape needed, such as quartered, sliced, diced, shredded, or julienned.

How to Freeze Rutabagas
First peel, then cut your rutabagas into cubes. Bring a pot of water to boil. Place the cubes in the boiling water and immediately set the timer for 3 minutes. When the timer is finished, immediately transfer the cubes to a bowl of cold water. Allow them to cool for 3 minutes. Then drain the water and transfer the cubes to freezer containers or bags. Label them with the current date and use them within 6 months.

If preferred, to prevent the rutabaga cubes from freezing into a big lump, the blanched cubes may be frozen first before being placed in the freezer container or bags. Spread the blanched, cooled, and drained cubes out in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined tray. Place that in the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer them to freezer containers or bags, as detailed above.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Rutabagas
* Try adding shredded rutabaga to your favorite coleslaw.

* Try baked rutabaga fries.

* Rutabagas need high humidity (but not a wet environment) and cold temperatures when being stored. Since the refrigerator is a very dry environment, they will keep best in plastic bags when being stored in the refrigerator.

* Try a hearty stew with carrots, potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, and other root vegetables.

* Try adding diced rutabaga to your favorite soups, stews, and casseroles.

* Try making hash browns with rutabagas instead of potatoes.

* Try adding a little grated raw rutabaga to a green salad.

* Try sautéed rutabagas with apples and a little honey.

* Try sautéing spiralized rutabaga noodles, seasoned with a little olive oil and salt.

* For a hint of the flavor of a rutabaga, smell it. The more pronounced the aroma, the more pungent the flavor.

* One medium rutabaga is about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds and will yield 4 to 5 cups when cubed.

* Although the flavors will be somewhat different and change the flavor profile of your dish to some degree, the following foods can be substituted for rutabaga in many recipes: turnips, broccoli stems, or kohlrabi bulbs. You could also substitute rutabagas with parsnips, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or carrots.

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Rutabagas
Allspice, basil, bay leaf, caraway seeds, cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel seeds, mace, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary, saffron, sage, salt, savory, star anise, tarragon, thyme, vanilla

Foods That Go Well with Rutabagas
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beef, chestnuts, chicken, eggs, ham, hazelnuts, lamb, lentils, nuts (in general), peanuts, pistachios, pork, poultry, sausage, tofu, turkey

Vegetables: Artichokes, beets, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, celery, celery root, chives, fennel, garlic, ginger, greens (bitter, i.e., collard, dandelion), horseradish, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes (esp. mashed), root vegetables (in general), scallions, squash (winter), sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, watercress

Fruits: Apples (fresh, cider, juice), lemon, lime, orange, pears, raisins

Grains and Grain Products: Barley, farro, quinoa

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (esp. blue, cream, goat, Gruyère, Parmesan), coconut milk, cream, milk (dairy and non-dairy), sour cream

Other Foods: Agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, miso, molasses, mustard (prepared), oil (esp. hazelnut, nut, olive, sunflower), stock, sugar (esp. brown), vinegar (esp. balsamic, cider, malt, sherry)

Rutabagas have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e., pies, tarts), casseroles, egg dishes (i.e., frittatas), hash (i.e., served with eggs),  purees, salads, Scottish cuisine, soups, stews, stir-fries, Swedish cuisine

Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Rutabagas
Add rutabagas to any of the following combinations…

Apples + Carrots + Onions + Sweet Potatoes
Apples + Maple Syrup
Broccoli + Carrots
Caraway Seeds + Garlic
Carrots + Egg (fried) + Parsnips + Potatoes
Carrots + Mustard + Parsley + Potatoes
Carrots + Nutmeg + Potatoes
Cheese + Potatoes
Celery + Onions
Coconut Milk + Lime
Leeks + Turnips
Parsnips + Potatoes
Potatoes + Rosemary + Thyme

Recipe Links
Pan Roasted Rutabaga

Mashed Rutabaga with Sour Cream and Dill

7 Dinner Recipes That Will Have Your Tastebuds Rooting for Rutabaga

Mashed Potatoes with Rutabagas and Buttermilk

Carrots and Rutabagas with Lemon and Honey

Roasted Root Vegetables with Rosemary

9 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Eat Rutabaga

Rutabaga Chipotle Soup

Cider-Braised Corned Beef with Rutabaga

Creamy Rutabaga, Parsnip, and Cheddar Soup

Curried Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Roasted Rutabaga Hummus

Glazed Root Vegetables

Roasted Root Vegetables with Tomatoes and Kale



Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia. (1993) So Easy to Preserve. Bulletin 989. 3rd Edition. Athens, Georgia: Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia.

Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.

Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.


About Judi

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.

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