The Humble Rutabaga - History, Nutrition, Basic Easy Recipe

Freshly Harvested Rutabaga

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There is nothing pretentious about the humble rutabaga. It has no attractive red skin like a tomato, no spicy kick like a radish, and no flamboyant deep green and red leaves like the Swiss chard. You will almost never see it on a restaurant menu in the US, and it is often bypassed when offered in the produce sections of supermarkets. Yet, this root vegetable is delicious, nutritious, easy to cook, and inexpensive. If you are not a rutabaga fan now, perhaps its interesting history, nutritional qualities, and ease of cooking will change your mind.

What Is a Rutabaga?

Commonly called a swede, turnip, root turnip, or yellow turnip, the rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica) is not a turnip at all but a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. It is a member of the Cruciferae family which includes the more familiar turnip, broccoli, cabbage, kale, mustard, bok choy, and rapeseed (canola).

The large, bulbous root of the rutabaga is what is commonly eaten, although the leaves are edible as well. The root flesh is a creamy white to yellow color, slightly bitter tasting, and either tender or woody depending on its age; the older the rutabaga, the larger and less tender.

A Bit of Rutabaga History

No one can say when the DNA of a turnip joined with that of a wild cabbage, but the rutabaga was first found in Europe during the Middle Ages and was eventually put to use as both human and animal food. Sweden was a significant early European supplier of rutabaga, hence the name "swede". Eventually, the rutabaga found its way to England and then, in 1541, to Canada. By the early 1800s, rutabaga crops were common in the northern United States. *

The rutabaga was, and is still, associated with poverty and famine, even though it grew and flourished in British royal gardens in the mid-seventeenth century. In England during and after World War II, citizens relied on rutabaga to fill their bellies while so many foods were rationed. Today in England, it is doubtful that the younger generation knows how to cook a rutabaga. **

* Texas A&M University    ** Vegbox Recipes

Rutabaga in Song

Since the humble rutabaga has been around, it appears that no one put its praises to song until the twentieth century.

Ithaca, New York, home of the Rutabaga Curling World Championship, treats spectators to a rousing rutabaga variation of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. (It’s a long video, and worth every minute!) The folks in Ithaca don’t leave the musical praises there. Visit their official site to hear the Rutabaga Curl Melody by Joe Crookston.

2010 Rutabaga Curling World Championship

Why Are Rutabagas Waxed?

Rutabagas are waxed to keep their moisture from evaporating through the skin. Waxing gives them quite a long storage life under optimal temperature and humidity conditions. When you buy a waxed rutabaga, it’s probably been in storage for some time, so place it in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator and plan on using it within two weeks.

Rutabaga Nutrition

One cup of cooked rutabaga contains approximately 70 calories and a scant one percent of the recommended daily allowance of sodium. The rutabaga packs a nutritional wallop in a tiny caloric package when it comes to vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and fiber. It also scores high in B vitamins. If you have special dietary needs, take a look at the complete rutabaga nutritional chart for additional information.

Preparing and Cooking the Rutabaga

The rutabaga needs to be peeled and cut before cooking. When I peel the skin from a rutabaga, I first cut off the root and stem ends with a heavy knife and then use a small paring knife to peel the skin in a spiral by starting at one cut end, working my way in thin bands around the root, and finishing at the other end. Although I am comfortable with this method, it is not the safest. Here’s another way:

Rutabaga Cut into Cubes

The sturdy rutabaga requires a sharp, heavy knife for cutting into halves and thick slices.
The sturdy rutabaga requires a sharp, heavy knife for cutting into halves and thick slices. | Source

The rutabaga can be a tough cookie to cut depending on size. Use a heavy, sharp knife and be prepared to put some muscle into the cutting, especially when the rutabaga is larger and older. Cut into 1/2- or 3/4-inch cubes and then boil, as you would cut potatoes, until tender. Cooking time may take as long as an hour if the root is very woody.

Some find the rutabaga’s aroma as it cooks to be unpleasant to downright offensive. However, the final cooked rutabaga is sweet tasting (with hardly a hint of bitterness), with a good looking pumpkin color, and lacks the strong aroma present during cooking, although it still smells like a rutabaga. If the smell offends you, well, I hope you can get past that and reap the rewards of a tasty, nutritious treat.

Cubed Rutabaga Simmering in Vegetable Stock

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Rutabaga Cooked Down and Ready To Mash

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A Dish of Basic Easy Rutabaga

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Basic Easy Rutabaga

I thank my mother for introducing me to the rutabaga through this simple recipe. Mom uses chicken stock instead of vegetable stock. Either version is delicious.

1 Rutabaga, 1-1/4 pounds, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1-1/2 Cups vegetable stock

  • Put the rutabaga cubes and vegetable stock in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil on the stovetop.
  • Cover the sauce pan, leaving the lid ajar, and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
  • Test for doneness by piercing a rutabaga cube with a fork. The rutabaga is done when the fork passes easily through a cube and most of the vegetable stock has cooked down. If the pieces are still firm, simmer for another 15 minutes, adding a bit of hot water only if needed to keep the rutabaga from sticking to the pan, and test again. Depending on the woodiness of the rutabaga, you may have to go through this “re-simmering” process more than once.
  • When done, mash the rutabaga, as you would a potato, and serve.

We don’t add any butter, salt, or pepper to this dish because the vegetable stock is loaded with flavor and the mashed rutabaga is naturally moist, unlike mashed potatoes.

Variation: Creamy Rutato (Rutabaga and Potato with Sour Cream)

2 Cups cooked, mashed rutabaga (from the Basic Easy Rutabaga above)

2 Cups plain mashed potatoes (no salt, butter, pepper, or milk)

1/8 Teaspoon salt

1/8 Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sour cream

  • Combine all ingredients except sour cream in a microwave-safe bowl and loosely cover.
  • Microwave on high until piping hot.
  • Portion out into plates or small bowls and top with a generous tablespoon of sour cream.

The rutabaga may lack good looks and suffer from an unfortunate reputation as a "famine" food, but it deserves a place of honor at the table for its earthy good taste and exceptional nutritional benefits. I’m eagerly waiting for one of the world's new style chefs to popularize this humble food by featuring rutabaga caviar on the menu of a five-star restaurant.

Recipes appearing in Sally’s Trove articles are original, having been created and tested in our family kitchens, unless otherwise noted.

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Comments 47 comments

Patricia Rae 5 years ago

I just cooked my first rutabaga. I like it, but it was a little bitter. I also cooked it with a sweet potato and mashed them together....with a little salt, pepper and a touch of sweet butter. I loved it.

Thanks Sally's Trove for publishing this info about the poor forgotten Rutabaga. It's really inexpensive, but really healthy for you, too.


mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 5 years ago

A great article! It seems that rutabaga's and turnips in general are often overlooked and forgotten. Thank you for the reminder. I have not had a rutabaga in what seems like forever. Now, to only find one.


carrie450 profile image

carrie450 5 years ago from Winnipeg, Canada

Thanks for this hub Sally. It's been awhile since I've cooked a turnip. That will be my next vegetable along with carrots.


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 5 years ago from India

I have never actually eaten turnips - but your hub (very comprehensive as usual) has made me very curious! :)


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Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Patricia Rae, I love how you called this root vegetable the "poor forgotten rutabaga." Indeed, it is. Thanks for sharing your variation. I've never tried rutabaga with sweet potato. It sounds both delicious and very eye-appealing.


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Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

mecheshier, you bring up a good point about finding rutabagas. In the US, even the largest chain stores don't always carry them. They are more easily come by in the autumn and winter, getting more scarce as the summer nears (they are a long-growing, cool climate crop). Hope you find one soon! Or maybe grow some?


neil 5 years ago

Good Morning Friend,

You have provided me with a trip down memory lane. I am a turnip fan but like Carrie, it has been a long time since I have had Rutabaga. I am really intrigued with the Sweet Potato idea. Since the "baga" can be a bit bitter that should solve that issue and be reeeeeeally nutritious.

Great hub, thanks. NEIL


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Carrie, I'm glad this was a nice little reminder!

FP, glad I piqued your curiosity! I'm curious about turnips and rutabagas in India. Are they common foods, can you get them nearly anywhere? Since they're cool weather crops, I imagine they'd be grown only in the north?

Neil, I like that sweet potato idea, too. And I'm glad you're taking that trip down the lane. Rutabaga's good for you! Always nice to hear from you. :)


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia

I have only ever eaten rutabags thinly sliced in a salad. The recipes were a good idea, as this seems like a very nutritious clean food to add to our diets.

A neighbor used to grow them as a treat for his draft horses, who seemed to enjoy them. I tasted one raw as a kid, it was not very nice as I recall.

A very informative hub, thanks.


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Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

earnestshub, thank you for sharing your memory. Many grazing animals enjoy rutabaga which in moderation is good for them, just like it's good in moderation for humans, yet humans seem to shun this rich root crop while animals relish it. Who's the smarter?

There's a wealth of rutabaga recipes all over the net, if you want to search them out (takes some doing). Try that Vegbox Recipes link in the Hub, above. There's a super selection of recipes that could tantalize anyone's palate.


FlyingPanther profile image

FlyingPanther 5 years ago from here today gone tomorrow!!

Love the hub as always Sally i love to cook mine then mash it with my potatoes!.

Love always.

FlyingPanther


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 5 years ago from India

ST, turnips are quite common in India - in fact Indians eat a lot of root vegetables. However I'm not so sure about rutabagas. Turnips are usually used in curries and pickles here.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 5 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Yum, yum - very nice hub.

We call them Swedes (here in England). They are also nice roasted in the oven, especially with roast beef or lamb.

Cut the swede into chunks about 2 inches at the widest. Put oil (like olive oil) or the fat of your choice into a metal pan in a hot oven. Let the oil heat up, and then add the swede. You will need to cook for about 45 mins- but depends on the age of the vegetable and size of the chunks. Turn once during cooking.

This hub has been rated up!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Brilliant hub with so much information and tips.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

FlyingPanther, thanks always for the good words. Those rutabagas are delicious with taters, aren't they?

2patricias, thanks for sharing how you roast the swedes. They sound both easy and mighty delicious. And thanks for rating up!

H,h, wow, what a compliment. Thank you!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Awesome! I learned a lot about the rutabaga, including how to enjoy it. I love fresh fruits and vegetables, but haven't enjoyed rutabaga for quite some time. Gotta try the potato recipe.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Steph, what I love about the "rutato" recipe is that it's so rich and creamy while so low in fat. If you use low- or no-fat sour cream, then there's no fat at all in the recipe except for what naturally occurs in the vegetables. Enjoy!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

Very interesting. I don't believe I've ever had a rutabaga..unless it was while visiting relatives in New England when I was very young. I don't recall.

As a vegetarian, I'd use the veggie stock, and probably add lots of pepper. LOL I'm a "pepper-holic."

As for the cooking smell, that notation made me remember an old trick of my mother's when cooking smelly vegetables, such as cabbage or brussels sprouts. You need to cook them in a pan with a concave lip that will hold something on top.

Into this rim, you sprinkle a couple of tablespoons (or how ever much it takes to go all the way around the pot) of dry ground coffee.


Jack o'Nory profile image

Jack o'Nory 5 years ago from A very happy place in the English countryside.

New to me and most interesting article. I have worked as a chef but never heard of this before.


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Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

MsLizzy, you are a wealth of information! You always add so much to a Hub with your comments. Fortuately, I happen to like those brassica smells, but the coffee ground technique would be great for someone who wouldn't try rutabaga only because of the cooking smell. Hope you enjoy your "peppered" rutabaga soon!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Jack, thanks so much for your comment, which reinforces Patricia Rae's "poor forgotten rutabaga." It is still rare that rutabaga makes it on a commercial menu. Glad you found this Hub interesting!


trish1048 profile image

trish1048 5 years ago

Mmmm, the creamy rutabaga sounds yummy. I'll be expecting to have that with dinner the next time I visit :)

I think it would be interesting to go to the supermarket and ask shoppers if they even know what a rutabaga is, and if they've ever had it. You would make a great spokesperson for this misunderstood vegetable. I can see it now, you in Sam's Club or one of those places offering samples to the shoppers. You could hand out your recipes along with the samples!

Very interesting topic!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Trish, you don't have to wait until you come to visit. It's so easy...make the rutato for you and the kids.

As for being a spokesperson for the rutabaga, are you reading my mind? I've got a recipe marketing plan in mind. :) We are, truly, sisters.


Huntgoddess profile image

Huntgoddess 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

Wow, this is a REALLY GREAT Hub. And, I love rutabagas. Thanks for reminding me about rutabagas. They're like coming home. Always loved them.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Huntgoddess, I'm so glad you enjoyed this Hub, and equally glad you are a rutabaga fan. Thank you for the good words.


pspitzer 5 years ago

Love rutabaga but always found it cumbersome to prepare so we only ate them traditionally on Thanksgiving ....until now! Our local supermarket now carries rutabaga peeled and cubed ....had them twice this week!


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Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

pspitzer, thanks for adding your experience here. From once a year to twice a week is a huge difference. I've been seeing more and more cleaned and cut fresh vegetables in the supermarket, but as yet the rutabaga has not been among them. I'll keep my eyes "peeled."


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK

We call these lovely veggies 'swedes' here in the UK. My Mum used to cook them and serve them in chunks, and I remember totally despising them as a child. My husband re-introduced me to them after we met, and I now love them, but only mashed together with carrots, or cooked in the oven with a little olive oil and garlic.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Hi Amanda! Yours is a wonderful story. You grew up with them, despised them, and then discovered them anew. Maybe love had something to do with it? :)

The only experience like yours I ever had was with cilantro. I detested the taste but grew the plant anyway since friends and family liked it. Then, only a few years ago, I decided to try it again, fresh from the garden, and I loved it! Maybe my taste buds finally grew up.

Thanks for sharing your swede experience.


Joan Elma 5 years ago

The recipe we use is from a local restaurant my son worked in waiting tables when he was a teenager: After cooking rutabaga til tender, mash with brown sugar, butter, cinnamon to taste. Everyone loves them that way.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Simple, delicious! Thank you, Joan.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Rutabaga. Not only good for you, but fun to say. If you are embarking on a marketing campaign you're welcome to use that slogan and I'll even write you a happy jingle to go along. Only it really is hard to rhyme with rutabaga.

What a great pictorial and explanation for preparing this long neglected vegetable. Glad you warned me about the strange odor when cooking it. I'll get out the Febreeze when I venture into this new exciting arena.

The pictures are incredible.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

So much fun to say! Especially when so many don't know what it is. The name could easily have been inserted somewhere in Jabberwocky.

The marketing campaign with Rooty is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but wouldn't it be fun to have a jingle? Do you sing (I don't!)? I'll email you. Thanks for the offer and the use of the slogan! Maybe we can make the world ready for the rebirth of rutabaga. Gotta stop now, I'm cracking myself up.

Glad you like the pics!


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

To the tune of "Daisy, Daisy"

Rooty, Tooty

It really isn't fruity

I'm not able

To rhyme this vegetable.. .

LOL! We'll do a duet with our dogs mouthing the words. I crack myself up too! harrhar har BBFN


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

OMG and LOL LOL. We're both cracked. Later!


Melissa 4 years ago

Hello from Ithaca, NY! Thank you for the lovely mention and especially for providing the nutrition information for the rutabaga. Great hub!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Melissa, I'd envy your being in the heart of rutabaga country, because I love rutabaga, but it's TOO darn cold up there. :) It was a joy to write this hub celebrating the benefits of a little-known food (little-known to most of the USA population and probably to none of the southern hemisphere population). Ithaca rocks!

Meanwhile, I see the 2011 rutabaga curling world championship was held on December 18. Time to update this hub with current events.

Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your joyful and inspiring comment. ~Sherri


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

Aha-- I finally found your rutabaga hub and it is just fabulous. My mouth is watering and it is definitely rutabaga weather so off I go tomorrow to buy some and use your recipes. Well done, ST, as always.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Robie, I know you are going to love this winter treat! I'm thrilled that this hub is inspiring you. Another fan added to the Rooty Rutabaga fan club??? Thanks, always, for the good words.


Bob Harman 4 years ago

I am growing plenty of Rutabegas this season...How do you wax them for storage thanks..


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Bob, I don't know how commercial growers wax rutabaga. But what a good question! You can do a search on "how to wax rutabaga." I took a quick look, and there is info out there. I do know that rutabaga cooked according to the basic recipe above freezes very well. Good luck with your rutabaga crop. :)


Mary Burnette 4 years ago

Decades ago, I grew up in Western North Carolina and was intorduced to rutabaga in childhood. We raised them. Lately I've been craving them and last night I sauteed part of one in olive oil, onion and tomato, added chopped fresh bok choy, dumped undrained boiled white potato into the pot, seasoned with Spike and white Himalayan salt and let thebok choy simmer until tender. The dish was delicious.

Growing up on a little farm, I learned as a child that white potato takes the odor out of unpleasant smelling foods. But as I'm accustomed to cooking and eatng many different kinds of fresh vegetables, I can't imagine one having an unpleasant odor. I enjoyed reading this article and will be eating more rutabaga than ever. Never knew how nutritious they are. Thank you.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 3 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Mary, thank you so much for sharing your rutabaga experiences.

I never knew that about the potato, that it takes the odor out. I know it to absorb salt, but this is a new idea to me.

Your recipe for rutabaga with olive oil, onion, tomato, bok choy, potato and salt sounds wonderful! I'm definitely going to experiment.

Thank YOU for your awesome comments.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Hi, Sherri

Enjoyed reading your guide to rutabaga.

Rutabaga in most of the UK are called Swedes or Swede turnips. In Scotland, however - as well as those names - they may be referred to simply as turnips or "neeps". They are one of the three principal food ingredients of a traditional Burns Supper meal every January 25th, the other two being potatoes (tatties) and haggis.

I remember as a child occasionally going to Burns events with my parents (my Dad was a big fan, though I hated them with a vengeance) and I would be virtually forced to eat the meal. I used to eat the potatoes and leave the haggis and rutabaga/neep/turnip/Swede/whatever...

It's probably because I was virtually forced to eat them as a young child that I "hated" both haggis and rutabaga until just a few years ago and hadn't eaten either in the best part of thirty years. I was persuaded a few years back to give them another try and can now eat both quite happily.

Food for thought about excessively forcing children to eat specific foodstuffs, rather than being subtle and creative...??? :)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 3 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Gordon, thanks so much for sharing your Swede/haggis Burns Supper experiences.

Although I was never a picky eater, there were a few things I didn't like when I was a child, either. Interestingly, as you shared, there came a time in adult life when I began to enjoy them, liver being the first food that comes to mind right now. I remember, as a young child, stuffing my mouth with horrible little cut pieces of that ugly organ, tucking the mess into my cheeks to just get them off the plate, being excused from the dining room table, and spitting them out behind the living room couch. My mother did eventually catch on to what I was doing, but not before the nasties had dried into a hard paste that stuck to the carpet.

Today, I love liver of almost any kind, but I've learned to cook it the way I like it! I'm glad you were able to make a pleasant re-acquaintance with the humble rutabaga.

About being subtle and creative...I believe that playing with food is a wonderful thing, and the best place and time to do it is in the kitchen when food's being prepared. Give kids lots of opportunities to help and to suggest. Let them have a portion of the food to do whatever they want with and lavish praise.

I so enjoyed your comment. ~Sherri


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FullOfLoveSites 3 years ago from United States

It somehow looks like a taro root. Haven't tried rutabaga but it looks delicious. :)


Jan 2 years ago

I grew up with rutabagas cooked in the pressure cooker = much more flavor and all the nutrition, also cooks in 3 mimutes!

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