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Exploring Root Vegetables: Rutabagas and Turnips

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2015

Rutabagas are often mistaken for purple-top turnips. The two are related, but they need to be handled differently in recipes.

Because of the purple coloring around their tops, rutabagas (used in our Root Vegetable Gratin, see related content) are often mistaken for purple-top turnips. The two are indeed related, but they have very different flavors and textures and need to be handled differently in recipes.

When we tried both in soups and stews, the rutabaga brought a mellow sweetness in comparison with turnips’ mild pepperiness. Because rutabagas are much denser than turnips, we found that you should either add them earlier in the cooking process or cut them about 25 percent smaller (e.g., if the recipe specifies turnips cut into 1-inch cubes, cut the rutabagas into 3/4-inch cubes).

Both can also be used raw in salads: Turnips will add a sharp peppery flavor and a firm but juicy texture, while raw rutabaga will be sweeter, with a crisp texture. Smaller turnips are fine sliced thin, but we prefer to cut larger, firmer rutabagas into thin matchsticks or to coarsely grate them.

CLOSE, BUT NOT THE SAME: Though they both have purple tops, turnips (right) are smaller and white, while rutabagas (left) are bigger, denser, and yellow in color.