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Rutabagas And Turnips: What’s The Difference?

Fall is the time for root vegetables like turnips and rutabagas. My grandfather (Pop) loved both, especially rutabagas, and my grandmother (Nan) prepared them specifically for him. At the time, I turned up my nose to them with a “yuck” face. Over the years, my tastebuds have changed, and I now enjoy both. I think Nan and Pop would be pleased to know I am growing and consuming them!

Rutabagas and turnips are both members of the Brassicaceae family, commonly called cole crops or cruciferous vegetables. They share some similar characteristics, so if you feel confused about which is which, you aren’t alone. Observing them side by side in my garden was the inspiration for this blog post. The table below highlights some key differences.

A side-by-side comparison of American Purple Top Rutabaga (left) and Purple Top White Globe Turnip (right).

A side-by-side comparison of American Purple Top Rutabaga (left) and Purple Top White Globe Turnip (right).
Terasa M Lott, ©2021, Clemson Extension

The rutabaga leaf (left) appears bluish-green when compared to the turnip leaf (right).

The rutabaga leaf (left) appears bluish-green when compared to the turnip leaf (right). 
Terasa M Lott, ©2021, Clemson Extension

The rutabaga (back) is slightly more elongated and has creamier colored flesh compared to the three turnips on this platter.

The rutabaga (back) is slightly more elongated and has creamier colored flesh compared to the three turnips on this platter.
Terasa M Lott, ©2021, Clemson Extension

Key Differences Between Rutabagas and Turnips

Rutabagas Turnips
Scientific Name Brassica napus Brassica rapa
Additional Common Name(s) Swedes, nepes
Leaves Thick, smooth, bluish-green Thin, hairy, dark green
Size Typically harvested at 3-4” in diameter Typically harvested at 2.5-2.75” in diameter
Flesh Color Usually yellow-fleshed Usually white-fleshed
Flavor Mild/sweet Sharp/peppery

If you haven’t tried these root vegetables since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, I encourage you to be adventurous. If you decide you’d like to grow them, you can find more information at HGIC 1324, Turnips & Rutabagas.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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