Native to Europe, but perhaps also to India and Central Asia, turnips have been consumed since prehistoric times.
The Greeks and Romans ate several varieties of turnip. Pliny the Elder is proof of this. He described both elongated and round turnips, named rapa and napus. They were widely consumed with cumin and honey to mask the taste.
The French word for turnip, navet, seems to have appeared in France in the 13th century.
Turnipshave always been consumed almost everywhere, especially by the poor. As they are easy to grow, they are used to feed both animals and humans, especially in times of scarcity, just like their cousin, the rutabaga.
Although both products were brought to Europe by the Portuguese Conquistadors, the turnip was introduced to North America by Jacques Cartier in 1541, along with the lettuce and the cabbage. It was adopted by the Indians, who quickly began to cultivate it.
The English have always been fond of turnip, which is also the national vegetable of Scotland.
Long turnips: firm, heavy, smooth skin, without rootlets. They should not sound hollow and the cut at the collar should look fresh, without any hint of blackness.
Round turnips: regular, smooth, and firm, without spongy or stringy cuts, and the color of the collar should not be too bright.
When there are tops, they should be green and crisp, without wilted or yellow leaves.
The smaller the turnip, the better it is.
Turnips are sold fresh, loose or in bunches, or frozen, sliced, or cubed.
Turnips are not widely eaten in Europe: 350,000 tons on average are produced each year by the United Kingdom (the leading producer), France, Italy, and Ireland.
Turnips are usually peeled, but baby turnips can be simply brushed under a tap. If they are blanched before being cooked, they are easier to digest.
A classic ingredient of pot-au-feu, the turnip also goes well with white meats, duck, and lamb.
In Germany, it is shredded and used like sauerkraut, with juniper berries and sausage.
It can be used as a condiment: in Japan, it is sliced into thin slices and marinated in a mixture of sugar and rice vinegar; in Arab countries, it is cut into strips and marinated in vinegar and water.
In the U.S., especially in the south, the leaves are cooked with bacon or smoked ham and added to soups and stews.
Turnips will keep for 2–3 days in the refrigerator.
The tops must be wrapped in damp paper and used within 48 hours.
Rich in sulfur and fiber, turnips are sometimes difficult to digest and can cause unpleasant flatulence. But these sulfur-containing glycosides can be effective in preventing cancer.
Turnips contain some vitamin C, but most of it disappears during the cooking time, which is often quite long.
Turnips are sold all year round, but are more prevalent during winter.
In Europe, there are two types of turnip:
- long and half-long turnips, white, usually grown under a cover and sold throughout spring and summer.
The main varieties are the Croissy and the Nantais, which may be sold in bunches with their leaves.
- Round turnips, which are more common in fall and winter. They have a red or purple collar and the main varieties are the Milan (purple collar, the most common), the red-top Nancy, the purple-top Saint-Benoît, and the Norfolk (big with a red collar).
Other varieties are less common, such as the yellow golden ball (the boule d'or), known for its tender, delicate flesh.
Another quite rare variety is the black turnip, particularly the Pardailhan turnip, a slightly sweet variety only grown in the village of the same name, which is in the Hérault department of France. The Caluire turnip is much easier to find.
In Japan, the kabu (turnip) is widely grown and there are many varieties:
Tennoji-kabu (white and medium-size), Kanamachi-ko-kabu (white and small), Shogoin-kabu (white and very large, 4 kg on average, used for making senmai-zuke, sliced pickled kabu), Ono-beni-kabu (completely red skin and flesh), Yurugi-kabu and Atsumi-kabu (red skin and white flesh), and Omi-kabu (white with a green collar).