When is a swede a turnip?

turnipsWhen is a swede a turnip? One should note that a swede is definitely a turnip when it’s in a Cornish pasty. Oh well – there’s always going to be a name mix up but when we say swedes in the Go Local Food crop share we mean the bigger yellow fellas and when we say turnips we mean the white smaller fellas. Of course just over the border in Scotland swedes are neeps and turnips are up for discussion.

So what’s the difference between a swede and a turnip? When is a turnip not a turnip?  Or how did the Swede get its name?  Now there’s an age old discussion point. Just to start the discussion, they are both related to cabbages!

“Turnips are a cruciferous vegetable (member of the mustard family). Turnips thrive in cool climates. The turnip that we know is thought to have descended from the Wild Turnip which is native to Central Asia, the Mediterranean and the Near East. Turnips have been sold in England since the 16th century. The turnip was a staple with the Romans and across Europe before the potato. Turnips were used for both human and animal feed. When the first fleet went from England to Australia in 1787 turnips were planted on Norfolk Island in 1788.

There are more than 30 varieties of turnip, the most familiar being the European type. This is a creamy/white globe with a purple top. The purple top comes from top of the vegetable being out of the soil and exposed to the sun.

The taste of the turnip is sweet and slightly peppery.  The French serve them glazed, braised or sautéd, Italians put them in risottos. The Chinese sweet roast them whereas they are enjoyed pickled in Japan and the Middle East.”


swede“Swedes often confused with the turnip although they look very different. Unlike turnips which can be traced back through early history the swede is much newer. Swiss botanist Casper Bauhin crossed a cabbage with a turnip and produced a swede. This is why swede are some times known as yellow turnip. Swede are also know as rutabagg, derived from the Swedish rotabagge. The swede is also known as Swedish turnip, Russian turnip and neeps in Scotland.

Swedes reached the UK and gained popularity in Scotland before England. They were also a favoured vegetable in Cornwall for the tin miners’ pasties. In the early 1800’s the British used them as an economical canon ball.

Swedes are much less popular than the turnip across Europe. With many countries using them only for animal feed. However due to their ability to thrive in colder climates they are popular in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden (hence the name Swede). They are also popular in Russia and Eastern Europe.”