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The Turnip: Nutrition, Uses and Some Interesting Lore of "One of the Most Important Vegetables"

Turnips have been enjoyed since ancient times, when they were cultivated nearly 4,000 years ago in the Near East. This round, apple-sized vegetable was prized by the Greeks and the Romans, and was even called one of the most important vegetables of the time by ancient author Pliny the Elder.


Turnips were first known as "neeps," which came from the Latin word for turnip "napus.

Throughout the centuries, turnips have been:

  • Wrapped in wild onions and leaves, then roasted over a fire

  • Mashed along with potatoes and served with butter

  • Used instead of cabbage to make coleslaw and sauerkraut

  • Used instead of pumpkins to make jack o' lanterns

The Cancer-Fighting, and Other Beneficial, Reasons to Eat Turnips

Turnips are a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, along with broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens and more.

These veggies include a dozen or more health-promoting compounds that can fight cancer and other illnesses. Among them:

  • Indole-3-carbinol: A glucosinolate that's formed when the vegetables are crushed or cooked. Research has found that it deactivates an estrogen metabolite that promotes tumor growth, particularly in breast cells. It's also been found to keep cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body.

  • Crambene: A phytonutrient.

  • Sulforaphane: A type of isothiocyanate that's been found to increase the liver's ability to detoxify carcinogenic compounds and free radicals. This in turn protects against cell mutations, cancer and other harmful effects.

Turnips also contain more familiar nutrients such as fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium and copper.

turnips and mashed potatoes

Adding turnips to your regular mashed potatoes is an easy way to get more cancer-fighting nutrients in your diet.

When it comes to turnips, most people focus on the root, but the greens of this plant are also incredibly healthy (and have a pleasant, slightly bitter flavor). Turnip greens help:

  • Provide relief from rheumatoid arthritis

  • Promote colon health (including lowering the risk of colon cancer) Fight against atherosclerosis

  • Promote lung health

  • Fight against declines in mental function

How to Enjoy Turnips

Turnips have been unfairly singled out as an unpleasant vegetable, when in reality their taste is similar to radishes when raw, and very mild once cooked.

You can use turnip roots anytime you would use a potato, and then some. Try them mashed, baked, boiled, in stews, soups and stir-fries, or lightly steamed with some butter, salt or lemon juice for flavor.

You will often find turnips sold with their greens attached, so take advantage of them! Turnip greens are delicious sautéed or steamed as a side dish with garlic, onion, olive oil and lemon, or as an addition to soups, stews and pasta.

If you're looking for a slightly more creative way to try out turnips, try out the hearty, warming casserole side-dish below.

Crunchy Turnip Crumble


1 large or 2 medium turnips
3 tablespoons
1 tablespoon spoon brown sugar
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

For the topping:

8 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter


  • Cook and mash cubed turnip with 2 tablespoons of butter.
  • Add mixed dry ingredients to mashed turnip, along with 2 eggs, well beaten.
  • Put turnip mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle with topping and bake for 25 minutes in a medium oven or until light brown on top.

Recipe source: Mr. Neep

Recommended Reading

14 Fruits and Vegetables That Provide the Best Protection Against Arthritis

Potatoes: Once and For All, Are America's Favorite Vegetables Good for You or Not?


Sally's Place

The World's Healthiest Foods

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