Superfood 101: Turnips!

Turnips are a member of the family Brassicaceae, also known as the mustard family. Native to Europe and found in colder climates, turnips have been a staple food since prehistory.  They were also used for livestock fodder since the 14th century and in modern agriculture they are planted in fields for grazing animals. Turnips are easily grown and properly stored can last throughout the winter months. They are a high protein vegetable, making them an ideal food for vegans. The greens of the turnip were a staple food for the poor during the Roman era and were part of the slave diets of the southern United States before the Civil War; they have become an ingredient in modern day soul food recipes. Turnips can be boiled, broiled, roasted, baked, steamed, and fried and the turnip greens are used in salads. This root is a highly nutritious vegetable that contains many vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients.

Turnips are a round root, creamy or white in color with a purple ring around the top; the shape resembles large red radishes. Immature turnips have not developed the violet ring and resemble white radishes. Turnips in their immature state are known as baby turnips. They are small, shaped like white radishes, and are harvested early in the growing period. They have a more delicate flavor than mature turnips and are used raw in salads, adding their unique sweet flavor to many recipes.

In the spring and fall turnips are displayed with their greens and during the winter turnips are sold without their greens. To pick a good turnip, choose one that feels  heavy for its size and firm to the touch, without blemishes. Turnips can be stored for several months in the refrigerator and are used in soups, soufflés, and many other recipes.

There are many benefits to adding turnips to the diet:

1. For cancer prevention, turnips are an excellent food to include in the diet. They contain indoles, which reduce the risk of lung and colorectal cancers by killing the cancer cells. Turnips also have a high content of glucosinolates, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory substances that can lessen the risk of developing prostate cancer.

2. Turnips are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in both the root and the greens. The list includes vitamins C, E, K, A, and more; and minerals that include copper, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Turnips have a high content of carotenoids; also present are protein, fiber, and folates. These nutrients are beneficial to a healthy digestive tract and help maintain a healthy immune system.  

3. The juice of the turnip will effectively reduce the incidence of body odor when applied to the underarm. Turnip water is an excellent foot soak that can heal cracked and dry skin on the soles of the foot. It also softens the skin, helping to maintain foot health.

4. Turnip greens have a high content of vitamin A, which is an anti-inflammatory substance that rids the body of free radicals and promotes ocular health. It reduces the risk of developing many eye disorders that occur during the aging process. One cup of cooked turnip greens provides more than 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A.

Turnips are an ancient food used as a staple for both people and their livestock. A member of the mustard family, turnips are rich in nutrients with their own unique flavor and texture. They are a health-filled root vegetable for man and beast. Both the root and the greens are used in many recipes that include main course and side dishes, soups, and soufflés. It is available throughout the year and especially during the winter months of the northern hemisphere. Turnips store well in the refrigerator and it is advisable to purchase roots that are firm and of medium size, as larger roots tend to be tough. Turnips have earned the title of superfood.