AskDefine | Define rutabaga

Dictionary Definition



1 the large yellow root of a rutabaga plant used as food [syn: swede, swedish turnip, yellow turnip]
2 a cruciferous plant with a thick bulbous edible yellow root [syn: turnip cabbage, swede, Swedish turnip, rutabaga plant, Brassica napus napobrassica]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. the swede, or Swedish turnip; the European plant Brassica napus
  2. the edible root of this plant

Scientific names


edible root

Extensive Definition

The swede, (yellow) turnip, swedish turnip or rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica, or Brassica napus var. napobrassica) is a root vegetable that originated as a cross between the cabbage and the turnip. Its leaves can also be eaten as a leaf vegetable.

The name

"Rutabaga" (from dialectal Swedish "rotabagge", root ram) is the common American English term for the plant, while "swede" (Swede) is the preferred term used in much of England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and India. In the U.S., the plant is also known as "Swedish turnip," "yellow turnip", or "wax turnip" (as it is sometimes sold with a waxy coating to preserve freshness) while in Ireland and Atlantic Canada, where turnips are relatively unknown, it is called turnip. In Scots, it is either "tumshie" or "neep", and the turnip (Brassica rapa var. rapa) instead is called a "white turnip". Scots will refer to both types by the generic term "neep" (from Old English næp, Latin napus). Some will also refer to both types as just "turnip" (the word is also derived from næp).
In North-East England, turnips and swedes/rutabagas are colloquially called "snadgies". They should not be confused with the large beet known as a mangelwurzel.
Its common name in Sweden is "kålrot" (cabbage root). In Norway it is also called "kålrot", but often also "kålrabi" (which in Sweden and Denmark means kohlrabi). In Finnish, it is called "lanttu", which is derived from the Swedish "planta", meaning plant or seedling. (Finland was for many centuries part of the Swedish empire, and rutabaga has to be planted as seedlings due to the short Scandinavian growing season.)


Prior to pumpkins being readily available in the UK and Ireland (a relatively recent development), swedes/rutabagas were hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns for Halloween. Often called "jack o'lanterns", or "tumshie lanterns" in Scotland, they were the ancient symbol of a damned soul.


Rutabaga was an important nutritional source for many Finno-Ugric tribes before the introduction of potatoes. Some claim the vegetable is native to Sweden, but others think it was introduced to Sweden, possibly from Finland or Siberia, in the early 17th century. From Sweden, it reached Scotland, and from there it spread to the rest of Great Britain and to North America.
In continental Europe, it acquired a bad reputation during World War I, when it became a food of last resort. In the German Steckrübenwinter (rutabaga winter) of 191617, large parts of the population were kept alive on a diet consisting of rutabagas and little else, after grain and potato crop failures had combined with wartime effects. After the war, most people were so tired of rutabagas that they came to be considered "famine food," and they have retained this reputation to the present day. As a consequence, they are rarely planted in Germany.


Finns cook rutabaga in a variety of ways; roasted to be served with meat dishes, as the major ingredient in the ever popular Christmas dish rutabaga casserol ("lanttulaatikko"), as a major flavor enhancer in soups, uncooked and thinly julienned as a side dish or in a salad, baked, or boiled. Finns use rutabaga in most dishes that call for any root vegetable.
Swedes and Norwegians cook rutabagas with potatoes and carrots and mash them with butter and cream or milk to create a puree called "rotmos" (root mash) and "kålrot/kålrabistappe" in Swedish and Norwegian, respectively. Onion is occasionally added. In Norway, kålrabistappe is an obligatory accompaniment to many festive dishes, including smalahove, pinnekjøtt and salted herring.
In Scotland, rutabagas and potatoes are boiled and mashed separately to produce "tatties and neeps" ("tatties" being the Scots word for potatoes), traditionally served with the Scottish national dish of haggis as the main course of a Burns supper. Neeps may also be mashed with potatoes to make clapshot. Regional variations include the addition of onions to clapshot in Orkney. Neeps are also extensively used in soups and stews. In Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, swedes are often mashed together with carrots as part of the traditional Sunday roast.
In Canada rutabagas are used as filler in foods such as mincemeat and Christmas cake, or as a side dish with Sunday dinner in Atlantic Canada. In the US, rutabagas are mostly eaten as part of stews or casseroles, are served mashed with carrots, or baked in a pasty.

Popular Culture Reference

Rutabaga is repeated over and over again in the chorus of "Call Any Vegetable", a famous song celebrating vegetables by Frank Zappa


The town of Cumberland, Wisconsin, U.S., celebrates a "Rutabaga Festival" each year, always the weekend preceding Labor Day Weekend. The International Rutabaga Curling Championship annually takes place at the Ithaca, New York, farmer's market.
Excessive consumption of rutabaga can be associated with hypothyroidism. Rutabaga and other cyanoglucoside-containing foods (including cassava, maize, bamboo shoots, sweet potatoes, and lima beans) release cyanide, which is subsequently detoxified into thiocyanate. Thiocyanate inhibits thyroid iodide transport and, at high doses, competes with iodide in the organification process within thyroid tissue. Goitres may develop when there is a dietary imbalance of thiocyanate-containing food in excess of iodine consumption.
The word "rutabaga" is also a technical term for a specific mutation type in fruit flies that results in impaired mental capacity.


  • Delange F, Iteke FB, Ermans AM. Nutritional factors involved in the goitrogenic action of cassava. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 1982.
  • Braverman LE, Utiger RD. Werner and Ingbar's The Thyroid: A Fundamental and Clinical Text, 6th Edition 1991. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pg 371-2.
rutabaga in Belarusian: Бручка
rutabaga in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Бручка
rutabaga in Bulgarian: Брюква
rutabaga in Czech: Tuřín
rutabaga in Danish: Kålroe
rutabaga in German: Steckrübe
rutabaga in Spanish: Brassica napobrassica
rutabaga in French: Rutabaga
rutabaga in Dutch: Koolraap
rutabaga in Japanese: ルタバガ
rutabaga in Norwegian: Kålrot
rutabaga in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kålrot
rutabaga in Russian: Брюква
rutabaga in Finnish: Lanttu
rutabaga in Polish: Brukiew
rutabaga in Swedish: Kålrot
rutabaga in Turkish: Şalgam
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