Many people avoid turnips, considering them to be a strange and difficult vegetable. This perception couldn’t be any further from the truth. Indeed when we consider all the possible benefits why not be brave, take the plunge and discover for yourself the answer to the question what do turnips taste like?
Turnips are old-fashioned vegetables that have fallen out of fashion in recent decades. They’re a quick-growing, nutritious crop that are an integral part of Nordic cuisine, where they often take the place of potatoes. In the U.K., turnips were traditionally carved on Halloween instead of pumpkin lanterns.
What are Turnips, Exactly?
Turnips are an easy-to-grow, root crop from the same family as cabbage and cauliflowers. In fact, they’re often confused with their similar-looking rutabaga cousins. The two crops are frequently grown together, but turnips usually mature about 4 weeks sooner.
For many gardeners, turnips are the ideal crop. They’re hardy biennials, but usually grown as annuals, and are an autumn crop that germinate quickly and thrive in cool weather. While growth may stall in warm weather, you’ll be able to eat their nutritious bright green leaves within a month after germination. A few weeks later, the turnip root itself will be swollen and ready to harvest.
Since both the root and the greens can be eaten, this is considered a zero-waste crop.
Turnips come in both large and small varieties, and can be used in a variety of dishes. Many people like to use them as a lower-carb, more nutrient-dense substitute for potatoes. You can also eat turnips raw, as young roots are very tender and can be peeled and eaten like apples.
What do Turnips Taste Like?
This is a difficult question to answer, as flavors can vary. Young turnips are sweet, crunchy, and similar to carrots. In contrast, mature turnips tend to taste more like potatoes. Older turnips are bitter in taste if eaten raw, but can taste and smell sweet if cooked correctly: rather like beets, but without the earthiness.
The taste also varies between varieties. Smaller turnips can taste sweet or tangy, like celery, while larger varieties are woodier.
In short, when answering the question “what do turnips taste like?” the answer is that turnips have versatile and unique flavors. As such, it depends partly on variety and root age, but also on how you cook and prepare it.
Turnips are low in calories, and rich in nutrients such as vitamins A, C and K. In fact, the vitamin K in just one turnip makes up your entire requirement for the entire day. These roots also have high levels of calcium, fiber and contain the helpful folate compound.
Selecting the Right Turnip for You
If you’re growing turnips solely for their greens, then any variety will do. They’re such nutritious and versatile vegetables, however, that it would be a shame to let the rest go to waste.
As we have already noted, the answer to “what do turnips taste like?” depends on which variety you’re using. Many people who claim to dislike their flavor have probably just selected a poor-quality turnip, or cooked it incorrectly. To get the best taste, you have to select the best to work with.
To do, this you’ll first need to identify young turnips from old ones. Young turnips have smooth skin and will smell fresh and sweet. They can be white, purple or yellow in color. Older turnips will be round, about the size of a baseball, and light pink.
While you should take the time to find the perfect variety for your location and growing, space here are a few of the most popular:
- Green Globe: a cold-hardy variety
- Purple Top White Globe: a reliable producer of flavor-packed greens
- Just Right: an easy-to-cultivate, reliable variety
- Yellow Globe: a golden turnip that is best roasted
- York Globe: another reliable, cold-hardy variety.
How to Grow Turnips
Turnips (Brassica campestris) are generally a hardy, easy to grow crop. Just not that they don’t transplant well. For this reason, turnip seeds should be sown directly into the ground or raised bed. You can plant them either in the spring, for summer harvesting, or in the late summer, for a fall crop. Turnips planted in late summer can also be stored for use during the winter.
They grow best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. If you’re growing turnips purely for their greens, keep them in partial shade.
Sowing Turnip Seeds
Before sowing the seeds, rake and hoe the ground to a depth of at least 12 inches, removing any large stones. Working the soil over like this improves the drainage and general soil condition as does working in compost or organic matter. If you have heavy, clay soil, sand can be worked in to lighten it.
Plant turnip seeds at a depth of half an inch. Once planted, water the seeds in well.
After germination, allow the turnip seedlings to reach a height of about 4 inches before thinning them out. Each turnip should have between 4-9 inches of space to grow into. The space required will vary depending on the variety, so consult the packet before sowing and thinning.
If you want successive crops, sow a couple of turnip seeds every ten days.
Weed the soil around the turnips regularly. Mulching heavily and regularly will help to deter weeds while giving the crop some extra nutrients.
You’ll have to water your crop regularly to prevent the roots from drying out and becoming tough and bitter.
How to Harvest Turnips
Turnips are a quick-growing vegetable. As a result, you’ll be able to harvest smaller varieties within a month of germination. Larger varieties will take longer—up to 75 days, in some cases.
If you’re storing the turnips with the stems and leaves intact, then harvest them when they reach about 2 inches in diameter. Leave the rest in the ground until they reach 3 inches in diameter.
Harvest turnips simply by lifting them from the soil. You can use a garden fork to loosen the soil and for leverage if you wish. Just make sure to pull all your turnips before the first frost. A heavy frost can crack the roots and cause them to rot.
Check your harvest for damage. You can’t store damaged turnips because they’ll go bad quickly, but you can still use them.
Gently rub the soil from the roots, as there’s no need to wash them. If you do decide to wash the turnips, make sure that they’re completely dry before storing.
Store them in a cold, moist place. If you don’t have a cellar or garage, you can wrap the turnips in paper towels or a moist cloth and place them in a perforated plastic bag. In this condition, they’ll stay good in the refrigerator vegetable crisper drawer for 4-5 months. You can also store turnip greens in this way.
Alternatively, pack the turnips in a bucket or plastic box in either moist sand, peat moss or sawdust. Don’t pack them too tightly, as the roots can rot if they touch. You should be able to place 2 inches of insulating material all around the stored roots. Place the lid on loosely to allow for good air circulation, and put the container in a cool place such as a shed, garage, or basement.
Regularly check your store for any roots that are deteriorating. Remove these before they infect the entire crop.
How to use Turnips
Now that you’ve grown and harvested your very own crop you will be keen to find out just what they taste like. As we’ve already noted, this will partly depend on their age, and how you prepare them.
Try young turnips raw as part of a fresh, winter salad. Older turnips work in a number of dishes including casseroles. Turnips are also a healthy substitute for potatoes, primarily because they have a much lower carbohydrate count.
To make turnip fries or wedges, boil the roots for about 30 minutes before frying. This boiling period is essential to bring out the vegetable’s crispiness. You can also turn tender turnips into a tasty mash, or roast them with a honey glaze.
These roots complement a number of ingredients including lemon, cheese, bacon, onions, thyme, and sweet potatoes. You can also use their leafy greens in a variety of Asian dishes.
Getting rid of the Bitterness
If you have older turnips, you can mask their bitterness in a spicy dish such as curry. Peel and quarter the roots to remove the bitterness. Then, mix the pieces in a container with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover the container and put it in the refrigerator for an hour. This should remove most if not all of the bitterness. You can then sautee, steam, or bake them.
You can also pickle them in sweet, savory or salty brines.
Now that you know how to grow, harvest and prepare them, why not take the plunge and find out for yourself the answer to the question “what do turnips taste like?”