Turnips and Swedes

Turnips and Swedes

Turnips and swedes are both members of the cabbage family and are closely related to each other - so close that it is not surprising that their names are often confused. For instance, swedes are sometimes called Swedish turnips or swede-turnips and in Scotland, where they are thought of as turnips, they are called neeps. Nowadays, the confusion is not so acute. Many greengrocers and supermarkets sell early or baby turnips or, better still, French turnips - navets. Both are small and white, tinged either with green or in the case of navets, with pink or purple. Consequently, people are learning to tell their swedes from their turnips and also discovering what a delicious vegetable the turnip is.

History : Turnips have been cultivated for centuries, principally as an important livestock feed but also for humans. Although they were not considered the food of gourmets, they have been grown by poorer families as a useful addition to the winter table. Swedes were known as turnip-rooted cabbages until the 1780s, when Sweden began exporting the vegetable to Britain and the shorter name resulted.

Until recently, turnips and swedes have not enjoyed a very high reputation among cooks in many parts of the world. This is partly because they are perceived as cattle food and partly because few people have taken the trouble to find acceptable ways of cooking them. School and other institutions tend to boil and then mesh them to a watery pulp, and for many people this is the only way they have eaten either vegetable.

The French, in contrast, have had far more respect for the turnip, at least. For centuries they have devised recipes for their delicate navets, roasting them, caramelizing them in sugar and butter or simply steaming and serving with butter. Young, tender turnips have also been popular all over the Mediterranean region for many years, and there are many dishes using turnips with fish, poultry, or teamed with tomatoes, onions and spinach.

Nutrition : Both turnips and swedes are a good source of calcium and potassium.

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