Now Is the Time to Be Eating Parsnips

Ingredient Intelligence

By looking at them it can be easy to mistake parsnips for white carrots. Sure, they're related, but parsnips do a wonderful job of shining on their own. And, there isn't a better time than right now to be eating them.

Whether they're new to you, or they make a regular appearance on your dinner table, here's everything you need to know about buying, storing, and most importantly, cooking parsnips.

What Exactly Are Parsnips?

No, they're not white carrots. Parsnips are a cream-colored, tapered winter root vegetable, closely related to both carrots and parsley. They're native to Europe and made their way to North America during the 19th century.

Parsnips have a complex taste. Similar to carrots, they're sweet, but they contain more starch and have an earthier, nutty taste.

Tips for Buying Parsnips

While you can find parsnips year-round, peak season is from fall through early spring. They're at their absolute best in the dead of winter, when frost converts the vegetable's starch to sugar.

Look for small to medium roots with ivory color and a firm texture. Avoid parsnips that are soft, shriveled, or have blemishes. Large roots tend to be more fibrous with a tough woody core, while the smaller roots are sweeter and more tender.

Like other root vegetables, parsnips have a lengthy shelf life. To store, trim off any green tops and refrigerate the roots for up to three weeks.

The Best Ways to Eat Parsnips

Parsnips are typically eaten cooked. They can be eaten raw — it's just not as common. Most of the flavor in parsnips is right below the skin, so it's best just to give them a good scrubbing rather than peel too much of the outer layer. Larger roots may have a woody core which should be cut out and discarded or saved for stock.

Peeled and cut parsnips oxidize when exposed to air (similar to apples), so soak them in water with a little bit of lemon juice if you don't plan to cook them right away.

As for cooking, there's no shortage of ways to prepare parsnips! Roasted, bake, broil, mash them, or even puree them into a soup.

Do you enjoy parsnips? What's your favorite way to cook them?

Updated from a post originally published December 2008.

(Image credits: Olha Afanasieva/Shutterstock)