Root vegetables generally refer to any part of a root that is used for food and can include tubers, corms, bulbs and rhizomes – basically any part of the plant that grows below ground. Root vegetables lend themselves well to cold storage and are generally served during the winter months. Most common root vegetables are carrots, turnips, beets, onions, parsnips, rutabaga, potatoes, and sweet potatoes but also include garlic, celery root, and ginger root,
Historically carrots were grown for their seeds and leaves, although the taproot is the portion that we eat today. Carrots are usually orange, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. The modern carrot originated in Afghanistan about 1100 years ago. Carrots contain no starch, are rich in Vitamin A, antioxidants and minerals.
The most common turnip, which is also a taproot, is mostly white-skinned where it is grown underground and reddish or purplish where it is exposed to sunlight. The interior flesh is entirely white. Turnip “greens” or leaves are also eaten. At one time, lanterns made from hollowed-out turnips were used for Halloween and in Nordic countries, the turnip was a staple before potatoes were introduced. Turnips are high in Vitamin C.
The beet is another taproot that is eaten, as are the beet greens. Beets are generally red although yellow varieties are also popular. In Eastern Europe beet soup, known as borscht, is common. Beets are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and aid in detoxification. They help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.
The onion bulb is cultivated as a vegetable, although it is generally used as a meat or vegetable accompaniment and rarely served alone. They are very pungent when cut and contain compounds that irritate the eyes. Onions come in white, yellow and red varieties. In the Middle Ages, onions were thought to be such important vegetables that they were given as gifts and used to pay rent. Gladiators were rubbed down with onions to firm their muscles, and at one time onions were considered a remedy for hair loss and snakebites. Onions have potential anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, anticancer and antioxidant properties
The parsnip is a cream-colored taproot that was once used as a sweetener before cane sugar was introduced to Europe. The sap of the parsnip plant is toxic and can cause chemical burns on skin. Parsnips are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium. They have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and anti-fungal properties.
The rutabaga is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, and is thought to have originated in Scandinavia or Russia. The roots and top are both edible and are also used as fodder for livestock. In the US, rutabaga is mostly eaten as part of stews and casseroled, served mashed with carrots, or baked in a pastry. They are often part of a New England boiled dinner. Rutabagas are high in antioxidants, has anti-cancer properties, is high in Vitamin C and forms both collagen and the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which protect cells against damage, encourage wounds to heal, fight infections, and promote healthy bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels.
The potato is an edible tuber introduced to North America from the Andes in the 1600s. Potatoes are the fourth largest food crop and there are over 5,000 varieties worldwide. They are best known for their carbohydrate or starch content which provides fiber and bulk. Potatoes provide protection against colon cancer, improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lower plasma cholesterol and triglycerides, increases satiety, and possibly even reduces fat storage
The sweet potato is not related to the regular potato. It is an edible tuberous root with a smooth skin whose color ranges between yellow, orange, red, brown, purple, and beige. Its flesh ranges from beige through white, red, pink, violet, yellow, orange, and purple. Sweet potato varieties with white or pale yellow flesh are less sweet and moist than those with red, pink or orange flesh, They originate from South America where remains of the sweet potato have been found that date to 8,000 BC. Sweet potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and potassium.