What’s the Difference Between Turnips and Rutabagas? (ANWERED)

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turnips vs rutabaga

Rutabagas and turnips are two of the most often confused vegetables on the planet and can stump even experienced cooks. This article hopes to put an end to the confusion. If you have ever asked, what’s the difference between turnips and rutabagas, we are here to help.

In this guide, we will explore:

  • The difference between turnips and rutabagas.
  • Do rutabagas and turnips taste the same?
  • Which is healthier – turnip or rutabaga?
  • Can I substitute turnip for rugabeta?
  • Why is rutabaga sometimes called turnip?

What’s the difference between turnips and rutabagas?

Rutabagas (Brassica napobrassica) and turnips (Brassica rapa rapa) are both part of the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables, very healthy and delicious to eat but they do have some differences.  

Appearance

rutabaga color

They do look much alike, but some simple visual cues will help you distinguish which you are looking at. 

Turnips are white-skinned and sometimes fade into a purplish hue at the top of the root. In contrast, rutabagas are more of a yellowish-brown color.  When cut, the meat of the turnip is also very white, while the rutabaga’s flesh is yellow.

In the market, the larger of the two is usually the rutabaga. This isn’t an inherent trait. Turnips, as they get older, tend to become more fibrous and develop a bitter taste. Because of this, they are rarely allowed to grow much larger than tennis ball-sized. 

Rutabagas don’t have this issue. Because their flesh stays relatively soft even when very large and their flavor doesn’t change, they can be grown much larger. 

One other difference you may note, when looking at rutabagas and turnips, is that rutabagas have smoother skin and have dull sheen under bright lights. This shine is from wax which can be naturally occurring or could have been applied to extend the rutabaga’s shelf life. 

Taste

rutabaga taste

Rutabagas and turnips both belong to the cabbage family. Many scientists believe that rutabagas were a naturally occurring hybrid from turnips in the 1600s. 

In any case, they do have similar flavor profiles with a few crucial differences. While both have that characteristic cabbage earthiness, rutabagas are much sweeter, with a flavor profile closer to sugar beets. Turnips have more of a savory edge, making them more comparable to radishes.

Which is healthier – turnip or rutabaga?

Like most cruciferous vegetables, both rutabagas and turnips are very nutrient-dense. Although one does have an edge in overall nutritional levels, it comes at the cost of being higher in calories and fats. 

Rutabagas are Higher in:

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Calcium
  • Iron 
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium 
  • Carbohydrates 
  • Fats
  • Sugars

Turnips are higher in:

  • Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
  • Sodium
  • Dietary Fiber

Nutrition Table

Per 100g Cooked Turnip Cooked Rutabaga
Calories 22 (1% DV) 30 (2% DV)
Fat 0.1g 0.2g
Carbohydrates 5.1g 6.8g
Protein 0.7g 0.9g
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg
Fiber 2g 1.8g
Sugar 3g 4g
Iron 0.2mg 0.2mg
Vitamin A 0 0
Vitamin C 11.6mg 18.8mg
Vitamin B1 0 0
Vitamin B2 0 0
Vitamin B5 0.3mg 0.2mg
Vitamin B12 0 0
Biotin 0 0
Folate 9μg 15μg
Vitamin E 0mg 0.2mg
Vitamin D 0 0
Vitamin K 0.1μg 0.2μg
Vitamin K1 0 0

Can I substitute turnip for rutabaga?

rutabaga soup

You can use turnips and rutabagas interchangeably in most recipes. They will, however, deliver different flavors. Turnips are more savory, while rutabagas are sweeter.

To some extent, this can be compensated for. Adding a few drops of agave syrup

to turnips brings them closer to the taste of rutabagas. Adding freshly ground black pepper to rutabagas helps them more closely resemble the taste of turnips. 

Why is rutabaga sometimes called turnip?

rutabaga name

Rutabagas were officially called swedes or yellow turnips until 1967. In that year, their name was changed to avoid confusion on the import/export market. Many people still use the old wordings and have passed them along to newer generations.

Botanically this isn’t precisely incorrect either. Technically rutabagas are a naturally occurring turnip hybrid. 

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