Swedish Turnips (a.k.a.- Rutabagas)

A Rutabaga by any other name is a Swede, or Swedish turnip. Think of chilly Scandinavia when you think of this vegetable.
By: Nan Chase

Botanical Name: Brassica napus var.  


Is a rutabaga the same as a Swede? Yes! The names Swede, Swedish turnip, and rutabaga are interchangeable – at least in the United States, although not necessarily in the United Kingdom – and this confusion points to just a few of the linguistic and historic clues about a delicious Old World staple that grows particularly well in cold climates and not well in warmer zones. 

Adding to the confusion: Swedes are also called yellow turnips and sometimes “neeps,” from the approximation napus, the Latin botanical name that morphed into naep; keep in mind that a yellow turnip – rutabaga – is only a cousin to the true turnip known as a white turnip. Andbecause Swedes have been known and used for countless centuries, there are many local nicknames reflecting the growing conditions and uses for this plant. For instance, some folks in Scotland call them tumshies, while in various districts of England they are known as “snadgers, snaggers, or narkies.”


Swedes, both the leafy tops and the fleshy upper root, are used both as food for human consumption and as livestock feed. The tops are especially rich in vitamins A, C, and K and such minerals as calcium and manganese, and they are high in dietary fiber. The flesh is packed with many trace minerals but is low in calories.


Swedes do indeed have ties to Sweden, where the plant was noted as a weed hundreds of years ago. The name rutabaga may be a rough approximation of the word rotabagge, which in turn has been reported as meaning “root bag,” “red bag” or “ram root.” It’s easy to visualize rams rooting through a field of yellow turnips for a winter meal, and just as easy to picture the round, rosy “red bags” of ripe Swedes poking through the soil in a field. Closely related to rutabaga is kale, and sometimes Swede plants are actually known as kale root in Sweden.


Swede plants also grew originally in Russia and eventually migrated to the damp, cool climate of the British Isles and northern France, and then to the colder parts of North America. Wow, what a lot of history is contained in this crop.

No matter what you call the rutabaga, Swede, yellow turnip, or Swedish turnip, you may use it in different ways according to where you live: as a side dish for game or roast beef, as an ingredientfor a condiment, as an addition to soup, as a companion for mashed potatoes, and for much more.

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