Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: turnip from Philip's Encyclopedia

Garden vegetable best grown in cool climates. The edible leaves are large and toothed with thick midribs; the young leaves are eaten as 'spring greens'. A biennial, it has a large, bulbous, white or yellow, fleshy root, which is cooked and eaten. Diameter: 8-15cm (3-6in). Height: to 55cm (20in). Family Brassicaceae/Cruciferae; species Brassica rapa.

Summary Article: Turnip
from The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients

A swollen-rooted member of the cabbage family, turnips hail from northern Europe and Scandinavia, thus preferring cool to cold weather, which keeps them sweet and crisp. Grown as a farm crop for at least 4,000 years, this delicious vegetable has long been disdained as cattle fodder. There are dozens of varieties sold around the world, from white, mild globes that may be as small as radishes or as large as oranges, through to roots shaped like spinning tops with purple or green shoulders, to sizeable, cylinder-like, deep-red roots. Turnips have a fresh, slightly pungent, sweet, and pleasant taste. The coarsely textured turnip tops or greens are pungently peppery.


With all turnips, the younger the better, so look for small roots not much bigger than golf balls, ideally sold in bunches with their tops on, from fall through winter into spring. If the tops are fresh, the turnips will be, too. The roots should be firm, not wrinkled or soft to the touch. Avoid extra large turnips, which can have a coarse, even woody, texture and very overpowering taste.


Keep for no more than a week in the crisper of the fridge. Store them in a plastic bag to conserve moisture, which they are prone to lose quickly in storage.


Small, young turnips can just be scrubbed; older turnips are best peeled.


Cut into sticks for crudités, or grate into salads.


Turnips retain their freshness if cooked gently until just tender; overcooking turns them tasteless and flabby. Boil (especially with potatoes), steam, roast, sauté, or stir-fry, or use in stews.


Turnips can be pickled whole or sliced.

Flavor pairings

Lamb, bacon, duck, cheese, apples, mushrooms, potatoes, sherry.

Classic recipes

Irish stew; glazed turnips; canard aux navets; torshi.

White turnip

Pure white, round turnips such as this Tokyo Cross have a mild flavor and a crunchy, juicy texture, much like a radish.

Turnip tops

Some turnip varieties are grown for their flavorful green leaves, which can be cooked like other hearty greens or pickled.

Purple turnip

The familiar top-shaped turnip is usually purple fading to white at the root. When small, the flavor is sweet and delicate.

© 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Related Articles

Full text Article turnip
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A biennial plant, Brassica rapa , probably native to Asia and widely cultivated for its thick fleshy root, which is used as a vegetable. An...

Full text Article turnip
Word Origins

[16 century] Etymologically, a turnip may be a ‘turned neep’ - that is, a neep, or turnip, that has been ‘turned’ on a lathe, so as to be...

Full text Article turnip
Dictionary of Food: International Food and Cooking Terms from A to Z

1. A temperate climate biennial plant, Brassica rapa (Rapifera Group), grown as an annual for the swollen underground roots which are 2.5...

See more from Credo