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turnip roots
Scientific classification
Species:B. rapa
Variety:B. rapa var. rapa
Trinomial name
Brassica rapa var. rapa
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For similar vegetables also called "turnip", see Turnip (disambiguation).
turnip roots
Scientific classification
Species:B. rapa
Variety:B. rapa var. rapa
Trinomial name
Brassica rapa var. rapa

The turnip or white turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) is a root vegetable commonly grown in temperate climates worldwide for its white, bulbous taproot. Small, tender varieties are grown for human consumption, while larger varieties are grown as feed for livestock.

In the north of England and Scotland, turnip (or neep; the word turnip itself is an old compound of neep) refers to the larger, yellow rutabaga root vegetable which is also known as the "swede" (from "Swedish turnip").[1]


The most common type of turnip is mostly white-skinned apart from the upper 1–6 centimeters, which protrude above the ground and are purple, red, or greenish wherever sunlight has fallen. This above-ground part develops from stem tissue, but is fused with the root. The interior flesh is entirely white. The entire root is roughly conical, but can be occasionally global, about 5–20 centimeters in diameter, and lacks side roots. The taproot (the normal root below the swollen storage root) is thin and 10 centimeters or more in length; it is trimmed off before marketing. The leaves grow directly from the above-ground shoulder of the root, with little or no visible crown or neck (as found in rutabagas).[citation needed]

Turnip leaves are sometimes eaten as "turnip greens" ("turnip tops" in the UK), and they resemble mustard greens in flavor. Turnip greens are a common side dish in southeastern US cooking, primarily during late fall and winter. Smaller leaves are preferred; however, any bitter taste of larger leaves can be reduced by pouring off the water from initial boiling and replacing it with fresh water. Varieties specifically grown for the leaves resemble mustard greens more than those grown for the roots, with small or no storage roots. Varieties of B. rapa that have been developed only for the use of leaves are called Chinese cabbage. Both leaves and root have a pungent flavor similar to raw cabbage or radishes that becomes mild after cooking.

Turnip roots weigh up to about one kilogram, although they can be harvested when smaller. Size is partly a function of variety and partly a function of the length of time the turnip has grown. Most very small turnips (also called baby turnips) are specialty varieties. These are only available when freshly harvested and do not keep well. Most baby turnips can be eaten whole, including their leaves. Baby turnips come in yellow-, orange-, and red-fleshed varieties as well as white-fleshed. Their flavor is mild, so they can be eaten raw in salads like radishes and other vegetables.


Turnip greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy84 kJ (20 kcal)
Carbohydrates4.4 g
- Sugars0.5 g
- Dietary fiber3.5 g
Fat0.2 g
Protein1.1 g
Vitamin A equiv.381 μg (48%)
- beta-carotene4575 μg (42%)
- lutein and zeaxanthin8440 μg
Thiamine (vit. B1)0.045 mg (4%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2)0.072 mg (6%)
Niacin (vit. B3)0.411 mg (3%)
Pantothenic acid (B5)0.274 mg (5%)
Vitamin B60.18 mg (14%)
Folate (vit. B9)118 μg (30%)
Vitamin C27.4 mg (33%)
Vitamin E1.88 mg (13%)
Vitamin K368 μg (350%)
Calcium137 mg (14%)
Iron0.8 mg (6%)
Magnesium22 mg (6%)
Manganese0.337 mg (16%)
Phosphorus29 mg (4%)
Potassium203 mg (4%)
Sodium29 mg (2%)
Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are roughly approximated
using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Turnips, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy92 kJ (22 kcal)
Carbohydrates5.1 g
- Sugars3.0
- Dietary fiber2.0 g
Fat0.1 g
Protein0.7 g
Thiamine (vit. B1).027 mg (2%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2).023 mg (2%)
Niacin (vit. B3).299 mg (2%)
Pantothenic acid (B5).142 mg (3%)
Vitamin B6.067 mg (5%)
Folate (vit. B9)9 μg (2%)
Vitamin C11.6 mg (14%)
Calcium33 mg (3%)
Iron.18 mg (1%)
Magnesium9 mg (3%)
Manganese.071 mg (3%)
Phosphorus26 mg (4%)
Potassium177 mg (4%)
Sodium16 mg (1%)
Zinc.12 mg (1%)
Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are roughly approximated
using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

The turnip's root is high in vitamin C. The green leaves of the turnip top ("turnip greens") are a good source of vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium. Turnip greens are high in lutein (8.5 mg / 100 g).

One medium raw turnip (122 g) contains the following nutritional information according to the USDA:[2]

Like rutabaga, turnip contains bitter cyanoglucosides that release small amounts of cyanide. Sensitivity to the bitterness of these cyanoglucosides is controlled by a paired gene. Subjects who have inherited two copies of the "sensitive" gene find turnips twice as bitter as those who have two "insensitive" genes, and thus may find turnips and other cyanoglucoside-containing foods intolerably bitter.


There is evidence that the turnip was domesticated before the 15th century BC; it was grown in India at this time for its oil-bearing seeds.[3] The turnip was a well-established crop in Hellenistic and Roman times, which leads to the assumption that it was brought into cultivation earlier. Sappho, a Greek poet from the 7th century BC, calls one of her paramours Gongýla, "turnip". Zohary and Hopf note, however, "there are almost no archaeological records available" to help determine its earlier history and domestication. Wild forms of the hot turnip and its relatives the mustards and radishes are found over west Asia and Europe, suggesting their domestication took place somewhere in that area. However Zohary and Hopf conclude, "Suggestions as to the origins of these plants are necessarily based on linguistic considerations."[4]


The 1881 Household Cyclopedia gives these instructions for field cultivation of turnips in the USA:

Turnip (flower)
The leaves of turnips are also eaten as "turnip greens"

The benefits derived from turnip husbandry are of great magnitude; light soils are cultivated with profit and facility; abundance of food is provided for man and beast; the earth is turned to the uses for which it is physically calculated, and by being suitably cleaned with this preparatory crop, a bed is provided for grass seeds, wherein they flourish and prosper with greater vigor than after any other preparation.

The first ploughing is given immediately after harvest, or as soon as the wheat seed is finished, either in length or across the field, as circumstances may seem to require. In this state the ground remains till the oat seed is finished, when a second ploughing is given to it, usually in a contrary direction to the first. It is then repeatedly harrowed, often rolled between the harrowings and every particle of root-weeds carefully picked off with the hand; a third ploughing is then bestowed, and the other operations are repeated. In this stage, if the ground has not been very foul, the seed process.

The next part of the process is the sowing of the seed; this may be performed by drilling machines of different sizes and constructions, through all acting on the same principle. A machine drawn by a horse in a pair of shafts, sows two drills at a time and answers extremely well, where the ground is flat, and the drills properly made up. The weight of the machine ensures a regularity of sowing hardly to be gained by those of a different size and construction. From two to three pounds of seed are sown upon the acre (2 to 3 kg/hectare), though the smallest of these quantities will give many more plants in ordinary seasons than are necessary; but as the seed is not an expensive article the greater part of farmers incline to sow thick, which both provides against the danger of part of the seed perishing, and gives the young plants an advantage at the outset.

Turnips are sown from the beginning to the end of June, but the second and third weeks of the month are, by judicious farmers, accounted the most proper time. Some people have sown as early as May, and with advantage, but these early fields are apt to run to seed before winter, especially if the autumn be favorable to vegetation. As a general rule it may be laid down that the earliest sowings should be on the latest soils; plants on such soils are often long before they make any great progress, and, in the end, may be far behind those in other situations, which were much later sown. The hot turnip plant, indeed, does not thrive rapidly till its roots reach the dung, and the previous nourishment afforded them is often so scanty as to stunt them altogether before they get so far.

The first thing to be done in this process is to run a horse-hoe, called a scraper, along the intervals, keeping at such a distance from the young plants that they shall not be injured; this operation destroys all the annual weeds which have sprung up, and leaves the plants standing in regular stripes or rows. The hand hoeing then commences, by which the turnips are all singled out at a distance of from 8–12 inches, and the redundant ones drawn into the spaces between the rows. The singling out of the young plants is an operation of great importance, for an error committed in this process can hardly be afterward rectified. Boys and girls are always employed as hoers; but a steady and trusty man-servant is usually set over them to see that the work is properly executed.

In eight or ten days, or such a length of time as circumstances may require, a horse-hoe of a different construction from the scraper is used. This, in fact, is generally a small plough, of the same kind with that commonly wrought, but of smaller dimensions. By this implement, the earth is pared away from the sides of the drills, and a sort of new ridge formed in the middle of the former interval. The hand-hoers are again set to work, and every weed and superfluous turnip is cut up; afterward the horse-hoe is employed to separate the earth, which it formerly threw into the furrows, and lay it back to the sides of the drills. On dry lands this is done by the scraper, but where the least tendency to moisture prevails, the small plough is used, in order that the furrows may be perfectly cleaned out. This latter mode, indeed, is very generally practiced.

As a root crop, turnips grow best in cool weather; hot temperatures cause the roots to become woody and bad-tasting. They are typically planted in the spring in cold-weather climates (such as the northern US and Canada) where the growing season is only 3–4 months. In temperate climates (ones with a growing season of 5–6 months), turnips may also be planted in late summer for a second fall crop. In warm-weather climates (7 or more month growing season), they are planted in the fall. 55–60 days is the average time from planting to harvest.

Turnips are a biennial plant, taking two years from germination to reproduction. The root spends the first year growing and storing nutrients, and the second year flowers, produces seeds, and dies. The flowers of the turnip are tall and yellow, with the seeds forming in pea-like pods. In areas with less than 7 month growing seasons, temperatures are too cold for the roots to survive the winter months. In order to produce seeds, it's necessary to pull the turnip and store it overwinter, taking care not to damage the leaves. During the spring, it may be set back in the ground to complete its life cycle.

Human use[edit]

Pliny the Elder considered the turnip one of the most important vegetables of his day, rating it "directly after cereals or at all events after the bean, since its utility surpasses that of any other plant". Pliny praised it as a source of fodder for farm animals, noting that this vegetable is not particular about the type of soil it grows in and that - because it can be left in the ground until the next harvest - it "prevents the effects of famine" for humans (N.H. 18.34).

Carrot and Turnip output in 2005
Macomber turnip historic marker

The Macomber turnip (actually a rutabaga) dating from the late 19th century features in one of the very few historic markers for a vegetable, on Main Road in Westport, Massachusetts.

In England, around 1700, Turnip Townshend promoted the use of turnips in a four-year crop-rotation system that enabled year-round livestock production.[5]

In the south of England the smaller white vegetables are called turnips, while the larger yellow ones are referred to as swedes. In the USA, turnips are the same, but Swedes are usually called rutabagas. In Scotland, Ireland, northern England and parts of Canada, the usage is confusingly reversed, with the yellow vegetables being called turnips or neeps, and the white ones swedes. Neeps are mashed and eaten with haggis, traditionally on Burns Night.[6]

Turnip lanterns are an old tradition; since inaugural Halloween festivals in Ireland and Scotland, turnips (rutabaga) have been carved out and used as candle lanterns.[7] At Samhain, candle lanterns carved from turnips — samhnag — were part of the traditional Celtic festival. Large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces and placed in windows, used to ward off harmful spirits.[8] At Halloween in Scotland in 1895, masqueraders in disguise carried lanterns made out of scooped out turnips.[9]

In Nordic countries turnips provided the staple crop before their replacement by the potato in the 18th century. The cross between turnip and cabbage, rutabaga, was possibly first produced in Scandinavia.

In Turkey, particularly in the area near Adana, turnips are used to flavor şaljam, a juice made from purple carrots and spices served ice cold. In Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, turnips are pickled.

In Japan pickled turnips are also popular and are sometimes stir fried with salt/soysauce. Turnip greens are included in the ritual of the Festival of Seven Herbs, called suzuna.

In the Southern United States, stewed turnips are eaten as a root vegetable in the autumn and winter. The greens of the turnip are harvested and eaten all year. Turnip greens may be cooked with a ham hock or piece of fat pork meat, the juice produced in the stewing process prized as pot liquor. Stewed turnip greens are often eaten with vinegar.

In the Tyrolean Alps of Austria, raw shredded turnip-root is served in a chilled remoulade in the absence of other fresh greens as a winter salad.

In Iran, boiled turnip-roots (with salt) are a common household remedy for cough and cold.

In the Punjab and Kashmir regions of India and Pakistan turnips are used in variety of dishes, most notably shab-daig.

In Brazil, turnips (nabos) are traditionally regarded as distasteful, or at least somewhat disagreeable and unpleasant at the first bite or taste.[10] Part of this bias reportedly stems from the Middle Ages, where, for the reason of being inexpensive, turnips became in Iberia (and thus in Iberian-descended cultures) associated with the poor, and avoided in the diet of the nobility.[11]


The turnip is an old vegetable charge in heraldry. It was used by Leonhard von Keutschach, prince-archbishop of Salzburg. The turnip is still the heart shield in the arms of Keutschach am See.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smillie, Susan (25 January 2010). "Are 'neeps' swedes or turnips?". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/
  3. ^ "Turnip - Brassica Rapa". Self Sufficientish. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  4. ^ Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 139
  5. ^ Ashton, T S (1948). The Industrial Revolution. A Galaxy Book (Third printing, 1965 ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 21. 
  6. ^ Smillie, Susan (2010-01-25). "Are 'neeps' swedes or turnips?". The Guardian. 
  7. ^ The Oxford companion to American food and drink p.269. Oxford University Press, 2007. Retrieved February 17, 2011
  8. ^ Arnold, Bettina (2001-10-31). "Bettina Arnold – Halloween Lecture: Halloween Customs in the Celtic World". Halloween Inaugural Celebration. University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee: Center for Celtic Studies. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  9. ^ Frank Leslie's popular monthly, Volume 40, November 1895, p. 540
  10. ^ The flavor of the turnip – Culinary Almanac (Portuguese)
  11. ^ Discovering the benefits of the turnip (daikon), undispensable to the milenar tradition of the Japanese cuisine – This is Japan! Living and Learning (Portuguese)

External links[edit]