A Cabbage Turnip by any other name…
Call it a Swede, a Neep, a Yellow Turnip, Rotabagge, Snadgers, Snarkies or Swedish Turnip, we’re talking the same language. It’s a Rutabaga.
Swede is a member of the large Brassica family which includes Turnips, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, and Cabbage. Originally noted in Sweden in the early 1600’s (hence the name Swedish Turnip) it is believed to have originated in Russia as the natural cross-pollination love child between a cabbage and a standard turnip. currently, there are four standard varieties:
American Purple Top – Creamy yellow bottom and flesh with (surprise) a Purple top.This is, as the name suggests, an American developed strain with dense, evenly grained flesh and a less sweet note. Commonly the variety used for commercial canning, the Purple Top has a tendency to be slightly astringent or bitter to some non-discerning tastes. When cooked, the swede takes on a deep orange coloration.
Joan – Smaller than the American variety, Joan produces sweet and mild roots which do better for eating after a late season frost, which aids in the sugar development.
Laurentian – Primarily a differentiation in coloring, the Laurentian produces roots with a dark cream colored bottom and flesh with a rich, red top. More starchy than sweet, it is prized for it’s mild flavor and color.
Marian – The gargantuan Swede. Typically roots exceed 8” in diameter A fast-growing rutabaga maturing in half the time as Laurentian, with purple tops and a deep yellow flesh and bottom
As well as two heirloom (lesser available – read that as “gourmet”, you’ll tend to spend 20 to 30% more for these varieties when you can find them) varieties:
Champion A Collet Rouge – sweeter, and better suited for frying;
Collet Vert – Green tinted with a rich, deep, buttery flavor.
We LOVE the funk… Gotta have that Funk…
Swede can be, well… aggressive. Like most of the other members of the Brassica family, there is that pungent, sulfuric gassiness to deal with. However, when cooking for a mash, or sautéing – keeping cooking temperatures low and limiting cooking times to around 20 minutes can keep those assaulting fumes at bay.
Another issue is going to be an inherent bitterness in rutabagas that some diners can experience. This is going to vary from slightly astringent to an inedible bitter, and that is solely going to depend on your own particular chemical makeup. There are sites on the web that purport to have solutions for removing the swede bitterness, but I’ve never tried them. I obviously don’t have that gene.
A Neep a Day… Currently, the average American intake of swede is less than a pound. Given the average weight of one American Purple Top – that’s about 1/2 rutabaga per person a year. That’s not a lot, considering that swede provides more nutrients, vitamins (C, and A), potassium and fiber than potatoes, turnips or parsnips. There are also suggestions that eating swede regularly can help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, diseases from blood impurities and lower gastro difficulties. Also, neeps are an excellent substitution for potatoes in diabetic diets.
And, compared to the alternatives –
NUTRITION PER 100 GRAMS WHITE POTATO TURNIP RUTABAGA
Calories 77 28 36
Carbohydrate 18 grams 6 grams 8 grams
Fiber 2 grams 2 grams 3 grams
Vitamin C 33% RDA 35% RDA 42% RDA
Glycemic Load 8 2 3
A word of warning – Like cassava, sweet potatoes, and lima beans; Swede contains small amounts of cyanoglucoside which does release trace amount of cyanide. The body converts this into thiocyanate, a chemical that inhibits proper thyroid production. Those of you that are sensitive, may want to limit your yearly intake to the average I talked about previously. As a side note, this chemical release and reaction are what causes the bitter taste, so if you find swede distastefully bitter, it’s probably best that you steer clear of them.
Hit me with that rhythm stick. I probably should note that rutabaga aren’t exclusively known for their food value. There is a band called Cabbage Turnip. Swedes are utilized in Ithaca, New York as part of their Fall Celebration in the International Rutabaga Curling Championship (yes, Curling… sliding a weight down an icy track). And Swedes and large turnips were carved into the first Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns, making scary little horrid faces on the flesh that they carried around to ward off evil spirits.
Talkin’ Swede (part 2) – Get in my Belly