Is that a turnip or what?

Dazed and confused about turnips? (Or just curious about progressive vegetable obsession?)

I did some research.

To begin, I needed some lab turnips for empirical study.  To that end Mr O and I went shopping in a large grocery store. They did have turnips, and also rutabagas.  But the signage was confusing.

neep or turnip

“These (A) are the turnips,” Mr O announced.

“No,” I said. “These (B) are the turnips.”

“No,” Mr O said. “Those (B) are rutabagas. These (A) are turnips.”

His rutabagas closely resembled the turnips called neeps, the ones used as Halloween lanterns in Scotland, but Mr O insisted they were rutabagas and that the white and red ones were turnips.

I noticed, as we chatted, or possibly argued, there among the root vegetables, that a tall, well-dressed gentleman was bagging up some of the so-called rutabagas. So I sensibly sought his advice.

He was accomodating and cheerful and spoke with what seemed to be a British accent but with just a hint of Australia, as if he’d spent time in both countries. He said his grandfather had taught him to use the turnips (B) in soups, and parsnips as well. He was clear and very enthusiastic. (Oddly, he seemed to think I was quite funny with my research questions. And I utterly failed to ask about “neeps” — a missed opportunity about which I have great regret.)

I selected the two vegetables (A & B), plus a parsnip (for additional study) and, still arguing, Mr O and I proceeded to the check-out stand.

A lovely young woman added up our purchases. She got to the vegetables. “Do you know what this (B) is?” I asked. No, she had no idea what it (B) was. She did recognize the parsnip but I had to suggest the name. She felt that (A) might be a turnip.

Then I impulsively stopped at the manager’s desk, veggies in hand, and asked him what he thought they were. (Mr. O was getting a little anxious about my continued survey at this point, but I was immersed in the study and I forged on.) The manager was confident about the red and white turnip (A) and when offered the term “rutabaga” he did immediately apply it to the other one (B).

There was a jewelry shop in the same big building, adjacent to the grocery.  Without hesitation I carried my vegetables to the man selling diamonds. “Excuse me,” I said. (And let me just note here that I was not in the least maniacal or otherwise of questionable demeanor or voice as I continued my study so really I don’t know why Mr O was looking quite so uncomfortable.)

The diamond seller was friendly and anxious to help but when I produced the vegetables and asked his opinion he looked like an unprepared student being hit with a pop-quiz. “Ask that man over there,” he suggested, and he pointed back across the way to a grocery store employee, a handsome and confident looking young man who seemed like someone who would know tons about everything.

“That (A) is a turnip,” this young man said in an off-handed way. (I learned it can be hard to get people to take root vegetables seriously.)  “I don’t know that the other one is,” he said. “But they turn up now and then.” And he laughed at his terrible joke.

I seriously considered polling some of the other customers but I didn’t think Mr O could take any more so we went home.

I was excited to try samples.

parsnipHere is the parsnip on the surgical table. To me this particular parsnip tasted like a not very sweet tough carrot. So I would skip parsnips in favor of carrots, unless this was just a freak bad parsnip in which case I know I will be advised.

turnip cubes

After grueling research, both in the field (store) and online, I believe the above vegetable to be generally known as a turnip. It is also sometimes called a White Turnip. Or Brassica rapa, or even “Queen of the Root Vegetables.” It is very round and smooth and dressed in a red-purple and white ensemble with crispy white inside. Uncooked, it tastes like a big mild radish. I liked it. And I thought it was pretty. Mr O thought it too spicy and didn’t like it.

neep cubesI believe this yellow vegetable is what is called a neep, also known as, among other things, a rutabaga, a yellow turnip, a swede, or Brassica napobrassica.

Someone online suggested that the neep (B) was created from a cross between a turnip (A) and a cabbage. Now I had a hard time with my brief genetics study in college, but a turnip/cabbage affair seems about as plausible as crossing a rhododendon with a duck. But I am astonished by many things in the world…

I sampled the uncooked neep and found it was mild but had a bitter aftertaste. I was surprised when Mr O declared it sweet and wonderful and better than carrots and yes we must have acres of neeps in future gardens.


Acres of neeps? (Will I have to resort to neep cooking experiments like those executed by our intrepid Fay, without regard to personal risk or possible disaster, gambling ALL for the sake of research?) [Note to Fay: please forward goggles and white coat in time for next year’s neep harvest.]

I sliced the parsnip, and I added it and the cubed neeps and turnips to a pot of chicken soup.

I couldn’t distinguish any of the vegetables when cooked. Actually they might have all been potatoes (tatties) as far as the taste of the cooked cubes. But the soup was very good, and I expect all the vegetables added to the flavor mix and the nutritional value.

But mostly I had a good time at the grocery store.


About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
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51 Responses to Is that a turnip or what?

  1. Janet says:

    They look like neeps to me or swedes or turnips at a pinch One’s a big one and the other is a small one. That seems clear.
    Parsnips are a must in our garden. Baked parsnips or curried parsnip soup. Yummy,

  2. kininvie says:

    All I can say is Go! Mr O….

    Now you need a sheep Linnie, because once you have the acres of neeps, there will be too many for soup, or even lanterns, and the sheep will eat the surplus during the winter, so you won’t have to slaughter it because it will have enough to eat. And then you can have lambs, which will be nice, although you will need to sow more neeps for them so that they can survive the winter and produce more lambs. I don’t think sheep like rutabagas though, so you needn’t bother with them.
    At this point you need to know about Turnip Townshend. Here is a good site where you can learn everything there is to know about him (and also turnips):

    • linniew says:

      Oh but Kininvie, I am a woman with a past: I have raised sheep, years ago. Sweet leaping lambs and all. I covered their coats to keep them clean, I washed and carded and spun the wool, I knitted sweaters. Once I raised a bottle lamb who would come inside and watch the tv news with us… I was a sheep mid-wife, sort of like Dr. Slop. But I wearied of it all. It came to seem as if sheep were mostly motivated to die, and it was difficult to keep up with all the health measures, shots and hoof disease and birthing difficulties. And one time a ram named Henry butted my leg against a board fence and it hurt so much I couldn’t even scream at him. —I might return to having chickens, but not sheep.

      No, we shall simply have to limit our turnip crop to an edible amount, or ship the surplus to you, because I know you eat neeps practically every night for supper. Or did you say they were only for carving, and not to eat ever?

      I followed the link but the site was kind of severe with poor Turnip Townshend…

  3. Roberta says:

    Oh, I LOVE doing surveys, though I don’t care as much for being surveyed. I used to ask all the vet clinics that I called during the day, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you in your current position?” So, yeah, maybe this was the REAL reason I was let go, but I digress…
    I was excited to read about your neep/turnip/rutabaga study because I nearly bought rutabaga seeds from this place last night:

    I did request their catalogue and my very well order rutabaga seeds. Both Michael and I love parsnips, have you never had a parsnip? I don’t know if I could ever really choose between a carrot and a parsnip, they are both good but very different. I don’t know much of anything about neeps/turnips/rutabagas. I don’t know that I’ve eaten any. I thought horses liked turnips. I know for a fact that they like carrots and Coca-Cola classic for that matter. You should definitely grow a little garden of root vegetables.

    I GOT THE SEEDS!!!! I meant to tell you. Thank you very much. Oh, this has turned into a ramble. Good night from Central Texas.

    • linniew says:

      Hey ‘berta
      Your vet clinic survey was so funny! I bet you engage the marketing people who call. I do that, and I write notes to send in the return envelopes to visa card offers from banks: ‘So sorry you have to work for this terrible company– we all have to work– hope you find a better job very soon.’

      Regarding parsnips, sounds like I may be short-changing them on flavor. I’ll have to try again. Yes, a root garden will be attempted next year.

      Maybe don’t give the horses lots of Coke, might be a rough ride. Yay on the pumpkin seeds, hope they grow! Night-night Austin.

  4. Grace says:

    Want to know what I think? Sorry I wasn’t at the grocery store because had I been, I would have gladly had [at the very least] two bits to offer. Not that I know the identity of A, B or C–the poor victim on the surgical table, above. But I always have an opinion or ten just waiting for willing ears. Or in this case, eyes. Anyway, I think God made root vegetables to be enjoyed in that bygone era called BR. (Before refrigeration.) That’s what I think.

    • linniew says:

      Brilliant Gracie! As usual. That root vegetable put-it-in-the-basement storage capability is great. I’ll look forward to stashing turnips and parsnips and beets and (with great luck) carrots next year, to add to the onions and garlic.

  5. Not sure about neeps but we were all reared on turnips here in Ireland. Mainly the orangey ones. They feed them to cattle and the milk turns funny and strong. Recently there have been some fierce posh recipes for turnips mixing them with aromatic spices and I must say a big improvement on the watery mashed up stuff from school! I love your enthusiasm for the roots but we kind of want to grow courgettes and rocket nowadays a far cry from the humble spud and turnip that nourished the ancestors. Loved this post as always, a distinct Linnie angle on the world:~)

    • linniew says:

      “Fierce posh recipes” sounds very intriguing. I love the fresh salad veggies too but they don’t keep into winter. The turnip family appears to be new to many here, a nice addition to winter squash, potatoes, onions and garlic. But the greenhouse cucumbers, lettuce & spinach are a truly a bright spot in winter at my house–

  6. Greggo says:

    I don’t care for a,b, or c… eating cardboard.

    • linniew says:

      Nice to hear from you Greggo! And forgive my doubt but have you actually tried these vegetables? They are hardly available in stores here. Even the enormous establishment where I went to buy them had just a very few of each. They seem to be foods that have been abandoned as their storage abilities became less necessary. As in why eat a turnip when you can have a pineapple? But if we consider food miles, and if these vegetables can be grown locally, and that our budgets are shrinking like hot-washed wool, then it’s time for food adventures!

  7. Fay says:

    Linnew who would ever have thought cabbages and turnips were so fond of each other? Another excellent forage into the unknown realms of the humble neep. White coat and goggles ready in the post for your future work, if you forward me your address via email. (serious offer, given my latest post, I need to make room for all my excellent post and I’ve two coats, greedy really). back to the neep experiment. I like the diversity of your sample set, your focus on the task at hand and taking an assistant with you to keep you Focussed is pure genius. In scotland we call both turnips neeps, seemingly its part laziness, part brilliance, we shortened the latin napus to neep, like a code, to keep the lovely Root safe, i guess and not let on to the Romans whilst they invaded that we could actually speak Latin. I’m not fond of the White neeps (real non hybrid turnips), mr o is right too spicy. But parsnip and proper yellow neep (the one with clearly less morals and more chromosones) are both lovely when cooked, even, it would appear as cakes, janets right parsnip baked are yummy we do ours with a bit of honey, oil and bake until sweet and soft and golden. Neeps and tatties go well together, a fine Scottish dish, which sadly I didn’t invent is clapshot (tatties and neeps mashed together with butter and black pepper)

    We share a history in pet lambs watching tv, but not knitting. I do not wish to pursue a career in ovine midwifery. And we had lamb for tea yesterday (steaks with elderberry jelly sauce – tattie, no neep) surely that’s ok? We didn’t eat neep, figured the lamb had eaten plenty.

    Keep up the excellent science research, will this be a monthly feature? What’s next I wonder – when does a zucchini (or courgette) become of age and change into a marrow?

    Ps I’ve put the neep seeds in the lab coat pocket – awaiting your mailing instructions.


    • linniew says:

      Hi Fay!
      I knew it, ‘neeps’ is used for both turnips AND rutabagas– small wonder I had such a confusion to sort out. I mean it’s fine to trick the invading Romans but what about the innocent gardening American? Fortunately Science has prevailed! And OMG a real labcoat? With neep seeds in the pocket? Dear Fay. But you don’t realize how it would cost to ship such a prize so far– probably about the same as if you’d bought it a plane ticket. But the SEEDS– I’ll be in touch about those.

      You know I read the part about turnips and rutabagas having different numbers of chromosomes, as if one could simply glance at the chromosomes and differentiate from that. As a liberal arts major I have this idea that chromosomes are itty bitty small, so it’s not like you just peek at the stem part or lift a root right? ‘Cellular’ and then some comes to mind. But you know Mr O has a microscope in his ‘office’ — I say ‘office’ and not office because of the immense chaos factor therein to the point that it could be an office or maybe something else, who knows? (Now look, you’ve got me writing that stream-of-consciousness thing like you, very dangerous in MY brain.) And it’s not that serious a microscope I think.

      A word about ‘clapshot’ — oh the language we are up against! — It sounds like a lovely recipe, and I’m sure I will try it. But I will have to come up with a new name. Here ‘clapshot’ sounds like an innoculation against VD…

      We like lamb, but I must admit that I found it miserable to kill the sheep after we had worked so hard to help them live. Honestly I mostly eat fish and chicken.

      Like my cooking features, the science projects will appear erratically or never, whatever works out best for guess who 🙂

  8. Everyone seems to be confused over turnips and swedes – A is a turnip and B is a swede only the Scots call them neeps. I don’t like turnips but I do like swedes which I cook with potatoes and mash with lots of butter and black pepper. They are best in stews.

  9. Ooh, can I join in? I’ve been sent over by the lovely Fay 🙂

    (A) is a turnip, and (B) is a swede, and parsnips are FABULOUS (roasted, with a bit of honey or olive oil – mmmmmmmmm)

    I’m not sure I’d eat any of them raw! (and not being Scottish myself, I want to call turnips neeps (tur-neeeeeps) but I believe neeps may be swedes…

    (sorry, not sure that helped)

    • linniew says:

      Welcome Jennifer! Yes you are quite in keeping with what I have learned. Neeps = swedes. But you have such enthusiasm for parsnips. I still have a little chunk of parsnip and I’ve promised Janet that I will bake it, so then I will test with honey or olive oil. But really I think I need to shop again– running out of lab samples. And I still have to make ‘clapshot’ so I can come up with a new name for it…

  10. Elaine is right, A is a Turnip,B is a Swede. But swede is the best ‘cos turnip seem to get very woody if left in the ground too long. Roast swede is a favourite in this house! Just off to dig some up for tea!

    • linniew says:

      So then I wonder how long the swede/neep can be left in the ground? Do you just dig them all winter long or something? That would be nice. I suppose there is a limit… But thanks for the tip on NOT leaving turnips outside. So much to learn…I hope they are all easy to grow, like beets. And not like carrots, I have a terrible time growing carrots.

  11. Alberto says:

    Linnie, sometimes you worry me. And then I worry about Max.
    But don’t you worry (too), because a nice little puppy will be send asap to make Max less worried…

    • linniew says:

      I knew you would be shaking your head about this post Alberto. But we in colder climates must deal with root vegetables occasionally. You, on the other hand, must deal with Mina’s puppies. When do they arrive? What do you think, four, five, six? Being with puppies sort of puts the world in perspective– they are so adorable and fun. Difficult to ship puppies… I will be watching for all the photo updates though.

      Here is Max when he first came to manage us–
      puppy Max

      • Alberto says:

        I want a puppy Max too!!! I guess Mina’s waiting for 3 but we can set a lottery: who guess right wins. And the winner takes all (like the ABBA song). All the puppies I mean…

        • linniew says:

          Oh but I see right through your thinly veiled attempt to award all the puppies to the ‘winnner.’ Not so fast! But you know Alberto you will love those puppies and it will be difficult to part with them. I expect you will develop an adoption application process and find the very best homes. But first you will post tons of cute images for me to enjoy.

  12. b-a-g says:

    I just want to say one thing – celeriac.

    • linniew says:

      Good heavens b-a-g, I just got turnips clear in my head and now you bring me celeriac. Well okay, undaunted, I will put it on the lab list and see if it’s out there in my world. I think we need a word to describe all this– root cuisine?

  13. b-a-g says:

    Actually I just checked out my brassica broccoli photos :

    I’m convinced there’s a potential root vegetable.

  14. Nell Jean says:

    What a wonderful post! We call A a purple top turnip and of course B is a rutabaga, my favorite vegetable. I prefer all my turnips cooked.

    • linniew says:

      And at this time I dedicate this entire blog post to you Nell Jean, because the Neep is your favorite vegetable!!

      (Sorry your comment got held up in the WordPress spam filter. I must speak with them.)

  15. Lyn says:

    The best thing to do with turnips is to leave them safely in the ground all winter, where they won’t accidently get into anything edible and ruin it, and then eat the young green tops that grow in spring. Nutritious and delicious either raw or sauteed with a little onion and bacon.

  16. cynthia says:

    Ha! I bought turnips with greens attached at the farmer’s market yesterday. I love cooked turnips! Not so much the greens, but I’ll eat ’em. My husband used to take raw turnips to school in his lunch box to horrify his classmates (along with cow tongue – cooked). I remember going to a huge turnip field in my town in north Texas as a kid and digging up buckets of turnips. I guess they rot in your territory – too much rain? Not a problem here . . .

    • linniew says:

      Oh, turnips as scare tactics! I’ll remember that. Now cow tongue needs no such intro. I’m advised that the true neeps keep in the ground. Research continues. I wonder if I could get some grant funding for this…

  17. kininvie says:

    Well Linnie, you will be pleased to know that this turnip confusion is infecting the UK as well as the US – and there is no clear way out, especially if you bring white turnips (brassica rapa) into the equation. This Guardian article is crystal clear on the matter: (worth reading the comments too)

    • kininvie says:

      PS – Just to keep you happy, here’s one of the comments from the above site:

      “I am Portuguese and in my country both of them are nabo, which also means an easily deceived person unable of iniciative (lat. napus), so I choose neeps, it sounds good.
      Now I live in Croatia, where they are simply known as from Varajdin, which is the name of a town in the interior, the favored type being a sort of pale green tasteless bulb that I would hesitate calling neep.
      Adding to the confusion”

    • linniew says:

      Well it’s just lucky for The Guardian that they saw me coming and closed their “comments” option. What a hot topic! Worse than discussing religion–I suppose it could become a religion. Myself I’m getting fond of the “root cuisine” term. But I’d say in general there have been way too many vegetative indiscretions happening out there. Soon every vegetable will be a variation on a turnip.

  18. kininvie says:

    Turnips are fecund (don’t you love that word?)

  19. Ruth says:

    I definitely identified one of those vegies as a swede, I’m not sure which one however. But ‘neep’… what a wonderful word! I might grow swedes next winter just so I can call them neeps! (Just kidding, I’ll never grow swedes!) I do like parsnips however, roasted, mashed with carrot and/or potato, or as chips. All of these root vegies are meant to taste better after a few frosts too, because it helps them release their sugars, and I think often supermarket ones are harvested before this stage.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Ruth
      You’ve given me an opportunity to report that I TRIED ROASTED PARSNIP! Yes, I had a considerable chunk of my parsnip remaining, after the soup-making, and I roasted it whole in the oven. I ate it with butter and quite enjoyed it. It was mild, kind of like a mild baked yellow squash, and had nice texture. You are the first to suggest roasting as chips– I’ll try that, and also mixing mashed with potatoes. Ah Root Crop Cuisine, such an adventure…

  20. cheri says:

    I too have been sent over by the lovely Fay and the first post I spy is this. Such fun but I have to tell you that A is a turnip and B is a swede. That said, as always I am late to the party and you already know all of this. I am pleased to hear that you tried roasted parsnip. You have not lived until you have tried roasted parsnips. As well as honey I also like to spice them up a bit by sprinkling with parmesan before roasting, I par boil them for a couple of minutes then roll them in olive oil and parmesan cheese and roast in the oven. Parmesan crisps (or chips as you call them) are divine too.

    Did somebody mention celeriac? Another really nice recipe is boil carrots, swede, celeriac together, add lashings of butter, pepper and mash up served as a side dish with a roast beef, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and sprouts…………

    Sprouts……………. ok I will get my coat now.

    • linniew says:

      Welcome Cheri!
      So kind of dear Fay to introduce us–
      Yes I have come to quite appreciate parsnips. We just had an annual dinner for Thanksgiving holiday here, and I added both parsnip and neep to the mashed potatoes (also garlic and parmesan)– then rebaked everything together for a bit. Turned out well! I hope to try both parsnips and turnips (swede, neep) in my garden next spring. I am afraid of celeriac. It sounds like something to do with a spine disorder. But I will try to get courage and read about it since someone else mentioned it– Alistair I think… Thanks for coming by. I will visit you at your blog too!

  21. All this confusion!!! Must be my French/German roots, pardon the pun–not really. Not sure about this “neep”business… Turnips are white or white with a purple top, hence the ‘Purple Top’ cultivar name. Turnips are best at about 2” in diameter. Tops are edible. In hot, dry years their taste is hotter and fiery, moreso than the spiciest radish.

    The swede or rutabaga is yellow-orange (never white inside). The top is in no way edible. It takes nearly all season to grow (v. about 6 weeks for turnips). In groceries they are always sold waxed, not so for turnips. They never develop a spicy taste, are incredible baked or in stews. I like them boiled and mashed– more flavorful than potatoes. I would NEVER boil, mash, butter, and eat a turnip.

    As for parsnips, Linnie you have not lived until you have baked slices of parsnips in orange juice with some raisins and brown sugar (or maple syrup).

    No confusion here.

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