The Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) is a cool-season vegetable typically with a mostly-white, bulbous root that has green leaves above ground. Each turnip can weigh up to 2 lbs., but they are usually harvested when smaller. The size of the Turnip root is partly a function of variety and partly a function of the length of time the turnip has been planted.
Turnips are grown for their Roots and/or for their “Greens”:
1. Turnip Roots have an interior flesh that is pure white. The exterior skin of the root is usually a shade of white except for the ½ inch to 2 inch portion that protrudes above the ground. That portion can be purple, red, or greenish because of exposure to sunlight. This above-ground part develops from stem tissue, but is fused with the root. Turnip Roots are often a conical shape but can be round. They do have a thin, long taproot but no side roots. Their leaves grow directly from the above-ground shoulder of the turnip root with no visible neck. Turnip Roots have a pungent flavor (similar to raw cabbage or radishes) that becomes mild after cooking – typically as stewed/boiled turnips. When harvested very young, they have a milder taste and can be used in fresh salads. Turnip roots are a very good source of vitamin C.
2. Turnip “Greens” – the leaves of the root – are a food source, too. In fact, they are a common side-dish valued for their pungent flavor in the Southeastern U.S. The greens are harvested in late fall and early winter after they have been exposed to colder temperatures. Smaller leaves are preferred; however, the more bitter taste of larger leaves can be reduced by pouring off the water from an initial boiling and replacing with fresh water. Varieties of turnips specifically grown for their leaves have a small, sometimes nonexistent, bulbous area as part of the plant’s root structure. The green leaves of the turnip top are a good source of vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium. Turnip greens are also high in lutein.