Rutabaga – What Is This Northern European Staple?

Rutabaga, also called swede, Swedish turnip, and neep, is a root vegetable from the mustard family, Brassicaceae. The species rutabaga, or Brassica napus, variety napobrassica, look much like a turnip. It is, in fact, a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. In many regions, it is mistakenly called a turnip, though it’s a different species entirely.

What is the rutabaga plant? How does it grow, and how can you use it? If you want to learn more about this intriguing vegetable, this post will tell you everything you need to know.

Rutabaga is primarily cultivated for its round, fleshy root, and there are many ways to consume it. But the leaves are also edible. Both the roots and leaves can also be used as fodder for livestock. It’s a staple in Northern European cuisine and can be eaten raw, pickled, mashed, or cooked.

Rutabagas are more nutritious than turnips since they have more solid matter. It's an excellent source of fiber, potassium, calcium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Let's find out more about this turnip replica.
Common NameRutabaga, Swedish Turnip, Neep, Swede, Yellow Turnip
Botanical NameBrassica Napus
Plant TypeBiennial, But Grown As An Annual
Size (Fully Grown)1 Foot Tall (About 30 cm) With A 6-inch Spread (About 15 cm)
Sun ExposureFull Sun To Partial Shade
Soil TypeLoamy, Well-drained
Soil pHFrom 5.5 To 7.0
Flower ColorYellow
U.S. Hardiness Zones2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, And 11
Native AreaScandinavia, Finland, Or Russia

Rutabagas VS Turnips: What To Grow?

Rutabagas are cool-season vegetables, just like turnips. While turnips are the conventional choice of most gardeners, growing rutabagas offers several benefits that you might not know about.

  • Rutabagas are very hardy vegetables and will survive most climates without compromising the harvest.
  • Though they take longer to grow than turnips, rutabagas grow noticeably larger.
  • They won’t get pithy even if you leave them unharvested beyond maturity.
  • With firmer flesh than turnips, they store longer and contain more nutrients. Rutabagas have yellowish flesh, unlike the white interior of turnips, and the flavor is milder. Ultimately, they both work great in soups and stews and make a great addition to meat dishes. If you like eating turnips, try growing rutabagas this season for a change – you’re bound to love them just the same, if not more!

What Are The Different Types Of Rutabagas?

Rutabagas offer a bunch of varieties with slight differences in size, color, and flavor. The different cultivars also suit different climates, so you should find and grow one suited to your growing conditions. Here are some popular choices:

American Purple Top

  1. Joan
  2. Marian
  3. Helenor
  4. Gilfeather
  5. Lithuanian
  6. Laurentian
  7. Collet Vert
  8. Macombers
  9. Sweet Russian
  10. Ruta-Bits Rutabaga
  11. Long Island Improved
  12. Champion A Collet Rouge

Where Did Rutabagas Come From?

With turnip-like roots and cabbage-like leaves, historians believe that rutabagas result from a cross between a turnip and a wild form of cabbage. This intentional or unintentional cross occurred sometime during the middle ages.

Though there’s some confusion about the vegetable’s exact origins, it’s often associated with Scandinavia, Finland, and Russia. Before becoming common in culinary use, people used it for feeding livestock.

Well before pumpkins became the star of Halloween, rutabagas wore the crown. They were carved out to carry glowing coal through Ireland, Scotland, Northern England, and West England at Halloween.

Rutabagas were introduced to the New World in the 19th century when European immigrants brought them here. Only rutabaga and water saved Germans and French from famine in World War I and then again in WW2 when other food sources were scarce. Old Germans who have lived through the war might still have painful memories of the vegetable.

Askov, Minnesota, is also called the rutabaga capital of the world. It has been holding the Rutabaga Festival & Fair on the 4th weekend of August each year since 1910. If you want to enjoy delicacies like rutabaga sausages, that’s the place to be!

Today, rutabagas are commonly grown in the northern regions of the United States, Europe, and Canada.

What Does The Rutabaga Plant Look Like?

© Mara Zemgaliete – stock.adobe.com

Rutabaga is a biennial plant that is commonly grown as an annual. It flowers and produces seeds during the second year if left to continue growing. It’s a cross between a turnip and a cabbage, so you’ll find the foliage much like that of cabbage’s, while the root resembles a turnip.

Rutabagas grow slower than turnips and reach a height of 1 foot (about 30 cm) and a spread of about 6 inches (about 15 cm) once the plant matures.

Like a turnip, the bulbous central taproot has a rosette of leaves appearing above the ground. Let’s check out the individual components in a little more detail.

Leaves

The foliage of rutabagas is different from that of turnips. The leaves are smooth, waxy, and blue-green. They’re edible, and you can consume them like other green vegetables. They can also be offered to plants as fodder.

Flowers

Rutabaga typically flowers during the second season with yellow or orange cross-shaped blossoms. They’re a few inches in diameter, with four petals that can be pale to bright yellow or orange.

Roots

Rutabaga is a root vegetable cultivated for its large, bulbous taproot. The plant has a central taproot, surrounded by minimal secondary roots. It’s like turnip, but you can quickly identify it from the neck’s distinct ridges.

Near the crown, the skin is purple, while the lower part is bronze or pale. Rutabagas typically have a golden flesh, firmer than the white flesh of turnips. They’re usually cooked or pickled and can also be fed to animals.

In What Conditions Does Rutabaga Grow Best In?

Rutabaga is a cool-season root vegetable. These hardy plants don’t need much care, though they may need to grow a little longer in the ground than their older cousin, turnip. If you want to try out something new this season, rutabagas are just the vegetable to grow. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Temperature

These cold-hardy vegetables take 80 to 100 days to grow to maturity from planting the seeds. A couple of light frosts before harvest are recommended since they’ll sweeten the roots.

Seeds can germinate in less than a week if the temperature is in the range of 45 to 85°F (about 7 to 30°C). The plants grow best when the soil temperature is between 50 to 65°F (about 10 to 18°C). If it stays higher than 80°F (about 26°C) for long periods, the plant will bolt and go to seed.

Growers usually plant them into the ground 2.5 to 3 months before the first fall frost. For spring planting, you can plant the seeds as soon as the soil is workable again.

Soil And Sun

Well-drained fertile loam is best for rutabagas. Before planting the seeds, apply a generous layer of compost or organic fertilizer, and amend it to the top few inches (about 5 cm). Full sun is best for their growth, but you can also plant them at a partially shaded location.

Water And Fertilizer

1 to 1.5 inches (about 2,5 to 4 cm) of water each week is enough for their adequate growth, either through rain or irrigation. As the root reaches maturity, the plants become even more particular about their moisture needs. Consistent moisture is vital as they reach maturity; drastic changes in moisture levels can cause them to split.

A few weeks after planting the seeds, the plants will benefit from an extra compost or organic fertilizer layer. Avoid using nitrogen-based fertilizers since they’ll promote foliage growth but will inhibit the root’s development.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Rutabagas?

Rutabagas are low-calorie vegetables, very nutritious, and famous for their antioxidant levels. They’re an excellent source of many nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Let’s find out if they’re safe for consumption in different medical conditions.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Rutabagas are safe during pregnancy and lactation. They’re rich in folates and Vitamin C, essential for a baby’s development.

Children

Little children can eat rutabaga when they are 8 to 10 months old. They provide plenty of nutrients for development but may cause gassiness and bloating in some children.

People With Allergies

Allergies from consuming rutabagas are rare. If you’re allergic to turnips, spinach, cabbage, or other cruciferous vegetables, it’s best to consult a doctor before adding rutabagas to your diet.

People With Diabetes

Rutabaga is a fibrous vegetable, which can prevent the risks of type 2 diabetes in healthy people. If you already have diabetes, rutabagas offer a nutritious low-carb diet and help regulate blood sugar levels.

Pets

The rutabaga plant is non-toxic to pets. You can offer them peeled, cubed, and boiled to your dog, but only in small amounts. Too many rutabagas may cause stomach problems.

Featured image credit – © pit-fall – stock.adobe.com

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