Rutabaga is believed to be native to Sweden and popular in North Europe. However it is not so common in American kitchen. Today, it is fast becoming a favorite vegetable of many for its ease of preparation, versatility, great nutrition and excellent flavor. As more people become aware of its nutritional value and distinct taste, its culinary uses are bound to increase.
This ‘mysterious’ root vegetable is basically hybrid of wild cabbage and Turnip. It is very similar to Turnips in appearance, but is larger, denser and sweeter. Rutabaga hints flavors of both turnip and cabbage. Leaves of Rutabaga are smoother than those of turnips and tastes like blend of spinach and collard. Both roots and greens of Rutabaga are used in various food recipes. Rutabaga roots are lumpy and irregular shaped. From outer they are dull white in color with a pink/purple region at crown. From inside it is yellowish orange. Amongst the varieties of Rutabaga, American Purple Top, Laurentian, and Joan are the popular ones.
Scientifically Rutabaga are Brassica napobrassica or Brassica napus and are part of Brassica genus of plants which also includes other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, arugula, watercress, radish, daikon, wassabi, and various mustards. The name Rutabaga comes from Swedish word – rotabagge – which means round root. Swedes is also a popular name for this ‘turnip-rooted cabbage’. Other names which are popular are Swede, Swedish turnip, yellow turnip, neep, tumshie, baigie, snadger, snagger, narkies, kålrot (Swedish), kålroe, kålrot, kålrabi (Danish/Norwagian), lanttu (Finnish), Steckrübe (German).
Rutabaga is considered a newcomer in vegetable family. Though turnips have been eaten since prehistoric times, first record of rutabaga comes from 17th century Europe where it was used as food and animal feed.
Sweet and mild peppery taste of Rutabaga makes it suitable for side dishes. It is used in salads, soups and stews. Rutabaga greens are similarly used as substitute of Spinach. Before pumpkins became popular in parts of Europe, Turnips and rutabagas were used to make jack-o’-lanterns to ward off evils. The International Rutabaga Curling Championship is often celebrated at end of Rutabaga season in December.
Nutritional Value of Rutabaga
Rutabagas are low in calories and almost fat free. Fresh Rutabagas contain about 85-90% of water content, which makes it good filling food. It also offers wide range of nutrients. It contains about 2.5% by weight of dietary fibers. Rutabaga is rich source of Vitamin C; around 250 grams of Rutabaga would give you enough daily vitamin C required. Rutabaga roots also supplies Vitmain B6, Thiamin and Folate. It contains good dose of Potassium. Almost all minerals are present, though in small quantities – calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, copper, selenium. Rutabaga greens supplies vitamin A and Vitamin K.
Like other cruciferous plants of its family they contain glucosinolates – which are being researched for its benefits in treatment of cancer. These chemicals are responsible for bitter flavor and odour of rutabaga.
Rutabagas blends well with protein rich food like fish and chicken, Vitamin A rich food like carrot making a complete meal. Rutabagas added to rice increases fiber content of meal, without adding any extra calories.
Health benefits of Rutabaga
Health benefits of rutabaga can be attributed to its nutritional value, presence of phyto chemicals which have use in natural cure of cancer, antioxidant properties and relatively high dietary fiber content. Some benefits of rutabaga vegetable are listed below:
Source of Vitamin C
A serving of one cup offers nearly 50% of the daily requirement of Vitamin C. Vitamin C plays a vital role in maintaining health of teeth, bones, skin. Vitamin C helps in reducing blood pressure, cardio vascular diseases, age related diseases. Rutabagas, fresh should be consumed for replenishing body with vitamin C, along with other nutrients.
Content of dietary Fibers
Cooked rutabaga adds required dietary fibers to your meal. Fibers are required for maintaining gastro intestinal tract, preventing constipation and prevention of absorption of cholesterol and toxins. A high fiber diet helps prevent body from various ailments including heart diseases, diabetes, Gastro esophageal reflux and obesity.
A body rehydrating food
Body communicates internally through ions of sodium and potassium. As an electrolyte, potassium deficiency can cause fatigue. It is essential for your muscular strength, energy metabolism. Potassium is required to counter effect of sodium in diet. Rutabagas are good source of dietary potassium. Along with high water content and fibers, they are excellent hydrating food.
Rutabaga with antioxidant properties
Like other cruciferous vegetables, antioxidant properties of rutabaga can be attributed to presence of Vitamin C, carotenoids and glucosinolates. Very few but promising studies have reported antioxidant properties of Rutabaga.
Anti Cancer benefits
Glucosinolates are chemicals which offer rutabaga its distinct taste. These chemicals upon digestion break down into biologically active substances like indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates, which are actively examined for their anticancer effects. Indoles and isothiocyanates have shown properties to inhibit growth of cancer cells in rats. Scientists are busy researching reduction of risk of cancer by intake of cruciferous vegetables like Rutabaga. Case control studies have shown that higher intake of rutabaga and cruciferous vegetables are associated with reduction in risk of cancer of prostate, breast, colon, cervix and lungs.
A Weight loss diet
Rutabagas deserve attention for people on weight loss diet, while not compromising on nutrition. With high water content, it is much filling in nature. It supplies dietary fibers, vitamin C and much needed minerals to body, while being low on calories. Try out boiled Rutabaga or rutabaga salads for losing weight.
Many other benefits of rutabaga shall unravel as research becomes more active on this less known vegetable. Till then it finds much application in culinary uses.
Culinary uses of Rutabaga
Being similar to turnips, they are cooked very much like them. They can be chopped, diced and added to salads for raw consumption. Else one can roast, bake, boil, fry or microwave them and add other herbs just like turnips or potatoes. Avoid overcooking, stop heating when they are not completely soft. Steam inside rutabagas would continue cooking. Often people peel off harder outer skin. But various nutrients are wasted. You can clean the outer skin and eat rutabaga whole.
It is essential ingredient in popular Christmas dish Swede casserole (lanttulaatikko). Swedish cook rutabagas with potatoes, carrots and mash them with butter, and by adding milk or cream make puree called rotmas or kålrabistappe. Rotmas is often part of various reciepes. Scottish recipe of Neeps or Tatties is very much similar to rotmas. Some recipes of rutabaga are listed below –
How to select good Rutabaga
Though Rutabagas are available throughout the year, best ones come in fall. Most rutabagas available in market are trimmed of taproots and greens. Often a thin layer of wax is coated to prevent loss of moisture and increase the shelf life. Good rutabagas are firm, round, oval and heavy. Roots with soft spots should be avoided. Wrinkled or dull looking skin is sign of loss of moisture from rutabagas. After purchasing, refrigerate them; they remain fresh for more than a week. Wash the root skin to remove any wax or soil particles. Once cut they should be cooked or eaten immediately.
Like other cruciferous vegetables, rutabagas contain raffinose, a complex sugar which is responsible for gas, flatulence, bloating or even abdominal pain. Rutabagas can be cooked with carminative herbs like cumin which can reduce this effect.
Glucosinolates in rutabagas while digested in body release cyanides, which forms thiocyanate. If accumulated due to large doses or any other reasons, it can interfere in iodine metabolism and can cause goitres. 100 grams of rutabagas contain less than 0.1 gram of glucosinolates.