31 Days of Vegetables

Rutabagas: The Best Ways to Pick Them, Cook Them, and Eat Them

updated Jul 30, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Of all the root vegetables, the humble rutabaga is perhaps the least-used in modern dishes, and this is a shame. Like carrots and beets, rutabagas — known as neeps, swedes, and snaggers in other parts — are delicious both cooked or raw and lend a distinctive flavor to soups, roast veggie mixes, and salads. Here’s all you need to know about buying, cooking, and eating rutabagas.

What Is a Rutabaga?

A rutabaga is a root vegetable that’s related to both the cabbage and the turnip. It was first used culinarily in Sweden, but has since spread to many parts of the world. You most often find the roots for sale, although the greens are also edible. Like turnips, the roots are often purple on top, but the flesh is a creamy light orange.

The Rutabaga Top 3

Three links to help cooks make the most of their rutabagas.

  1. Start with the basics: Why you should give rutabaga a chance.
  2. Then try it out! Just add a little to your mashed potatoes.
  3. Here are some tips for cutting root vegetables in general, to keep you safe.

How to Choose the Best Rutabaga

According to Cara Mangini, aka The Vegetable Butcher, you want to select smaller roots (under 5 inches in diameter) to ensure they’re tender. Avoid cracks, bruises, soft spots, or wrinkles. Rutabagas come into season in the late fall and winter, and that’s when you can find them at their freshest. Occasionally you’ll find them unwaxed in season, but most of the year they’ll be covered in a protective wax coating.

The Best Ways to Cook Rutabaga

The Difference Between Rutabagas andTurnips

Rutabagas and turnips are very closely related, but there are key differences: Rutabagas are generally larger, with more yellowish flesh, and are, as The Farmer’s Almanac puts it, “the least attractive of the two.” However, rutabagas are also much more mild-tasting, so for those who are a little less into the bold peppery flavor of a turnip, substituting rutabaga in a recipe is a good way to tone it down without losing the flavor profile altogether — although, since rutabagas are also denser, you may need to cook them longer.

Rutabaga Nutrition

Rutabagas are relatively nutritious, and known mostly for fiber and vitamin C. A cup of mashed rutabaga has just 73 calories, 4.3 grams of fiber (about 17% dv), and 75% of your daily value of vitamin C. It also has about 14% dv of potassium and 10% of your B6 (that’s the one that’s good for your brain and nervous system).

What Does Rutabaga Taste Like?

Being a cross between a turnip and a cabbage, it’s no surprise that rutabagas get their flavor profile from the two. They have the signature peppery, bitter bite that turnips and other members of the brassica family (kale, Brussels sprouts) tend to have. But when roasted they also turn creamy and sweet.

How to Peel a Rutabaga

As many rutabagas are sold waxed, you want to wash and scrub the outside, then peel it with a sturdy vegetable peeler, or trim off the outside with a knife. If using a knife, it can be helpful to steady the vegetable by trimming the bottom, so it rests evenly on the surface of your cutting board. Here’s some more info on safely cutting winter root vegetables.

How to Cut a Rutabaga

Once you’ve peeled it, you can simply cut it into cubes or however the recipe calls for it.

No Fresh Rutabaga? What to Substitute.

If your recipe calls for rutabaga and you don’t have any on hand — or don’t want to use it — you can easily swap the ingredient out for a similar root vegetable that you do have, or that you prefer. Some possibilities include turnips, parsnips, beets, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, carrots, or celeriac.

The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Rutabaga

Toss it into a pan with some eggs for a quick breakfast hash!

Our Top 5 Rutabaga Recipes

What’s your favorite recipe or use for rutabagas? Any favorite way to cook it?

31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days. How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our July challenge to eat every single one!