Rutabaga (Brassica napus Napobrassica group)
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The rutabaga, swede or (yellow) turnip (Brassica napobrassica, or Brassica napus var. napobrassica) is a root vegetable that originated as a cross between the cabbage and the turnip. Its leaves may also be eaten as a leaf vegetable.
“Rutabaga” (from dialectal Swedish “rotabagge”, root ram) is the common American term for the plant, while “swede” (Swede) is the preferred term used in much of England, Wales, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. In the U.S., it is also known as “Swedish turnip” or “yellow turnip”, while in 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” (a contraction of the archaic pronunciation “turneep”). Some will also refer to both types as just “turnip”. Prior to pumpkins being readily available in the UK and Ireland (a relatively recent innovation), 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. This custom also occurred in Ferryhill in County Durham. 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. In Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, swedes are often mashed together with carrots as part of the traditional Sunday roast.
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).
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 (swede/rutabaga winter) of 1916–17, 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 gained a reputation as a “famine food,” which reputation they have retained to the present day. As a consequence, they are rarely planted in Germany. During World War II swedes were often used as filler in “mixed fruit” jams in Britain.
The Swedes cook rutabagas with potatoes and carrots and mash them with butter and milk to create a puree called “rotmos” (root mash). 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 Norway, swedes/rutabagas are mixed with potatoes, carrots, onion and cream to make a similar mash called “kålrabistappe”. 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.
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, NY, farmer’s market.
Excessive consumption of rutabaga (as well as cassava, maize, bamboo shoots, sweet potatoes, and lima beans) can be associated with hypothyroidism. These cyanoglucoside-containing foods 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.