Getting to the Root of the Root Vegetables
With the holidays over we now have plenty of time to reflect on what we ate and maybe shouldn’t have had in the food categories. And, for a few of us reading this article we can say we did eat some of our root vegetables, at least various potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and more.
So much can be said about the versatile and available root vegetable. And, in Arizona, we can grow nearly all of them. Most root vegetables are available all year, but the peak season is fall through spring, except for beets, which are the best summer through fall. And, the experts tell us in-season, roots have a deeper, sweeter flavor and tend to be juicier. Checking out in-season charts will help you determine in the large family of root vegetables what’s in season regardless of the month you’re currently in.
Root vegetables happen to be a vegetable group that stays consistently great all year long. The fact that they can be cooked in a variety of ways and mixed with other types of vegetables means you can do lots with them.
While so many good things can be said about root vegetables, Harvard Health Publishing suggests we be a bit thoughtful about their use. Said Teresa Fung, adjunct professor in the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “They are so high in carbohydrates that they are more like grains than greens. It makes more sense to put them in the same category as breads, rice, or pasta." The 2018 article is full of all sorts of insights on root vegetables.
Below the experts and nutritionists get to the root of the root vegetable.
Beets: Listed as a superfood, beets are considered very healthy.
Carrots: Crisp and sweet, carrots are probably the most popular root vegetable because they are perfect for eating raw, a quick and healthy snack on the go.
Ginger: Like beets, ginger is a powerhouse root because of its natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification properties. Ginger can be used in a large variety of foods and drinks.
Kohlrabi: Underneath the thick skin and strange tentacles of kohlrabi lies juicy, crisp flesh.
Onion & Garlic: Some debate whether onions and garlic are true root vegetables because they are bulbs and do not grow as deep as most of the other roots. But they do grow below ground.
Parsnips: Parsnips have a unique cinnamon-like flavor. They are harder than carrots and have a deeper, warm flavor.
Rutabagas: Like turnips, rutabagas are subtle in flavor.
Sweet Potatoes & Yams: Among the most usable, user-friendly, and palatable roots, sweet potatoes and yams are great mashed, pureed and made into soup, roasted, and baked into muffins, cookies, pancakes and so more. Yams are often confused with sweet potatoes, and although they can be used interchangeably, there is a difference.
Turnips: While turnips are versatile, they are very subtle in flavor, which makes them great for pairing with stronger flavored vegetables.
Yucca Root, also known as Cassava: Starchy and subtle in flavor, yucca is often used the same way in cooking as potatoes. It is best when roasted or fried, and it tastes like a potato wedge, although the texture is somewhat stringy. Yucca can be paired with a wide variety of herbs, spices, cheeses, and sauces. Yucca is a staple food in many African countries but is easily grown in other regions.
Root vegetables are versatile and can be prepared in a variety of ways. The trick is to find what works for you in terms of taste. While I like raw carrots, cooked carrots are not my favorite. Root vegetables are eaten raw, steamed or boiled, roasted, sautéed and grilled.
Fun Facts about Root Vegetables:
- Obviously, these are all vegetables that grow below the ground.
- Technically, they’re not all roots, for example, onions and garlic.
- Root vegetables are low in calories and high in antioxidants.
- Each type of root vegetable contains a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
- A medium baked russet potato (including its skin) has 164 calories and 935 mg of potassium (more than twice the potassium of a medium-sized banana).
- A cup of mashed turnips has 51 calories and 76 milligrams (mg) of calcium — as much calcium as half of a slice of cheddar cheese.
- The flesh of a medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories and enough vitamin A — 1,096 micrograms (mcg) — to meet your entire Recommended Dietary Allowance for the day (for adults 51 or older, that's 700 mcg for women, 900 mcg for men). Carrots are also a good source of vitamin A, with 1,069 mcg in a cup of chopped raw carrots.
- Carrots are best known for being rich in beta carotene, a compound that may reduce heart disease and certain types of cancer, and Vitamin A, which bolsters vision, bone growth and tooth development.
- Originally, wild carrot varieties ranged in color from white to purple.
- In the 1600s, Dutch agriculturalists developed carrots that emphasized orange tints and phased out purple. The tinkering didn't stop there: Researchers at Southern Illinois University report that the British developed high-carotene carrots during World War II in order to enhance pilots' night vision. Today, geneticists are breeding carrots in a wide color spectrum, including purple, red and yellow, all with slightly different nutritional properties.
- High in fiber, vitamin C and folate, parsnips make a nutrient-rich alternative to the potato when mashed or roasted as a side dish. Look for small- to medium-sized roots; larger parsnips can be woody.
- The average American eats 120 to 126 pounds of potatoes per year, and while Super-Size fries may have a lousy nutritional reputation, don't blame the spud itself: fresh potatoes have more potassium than bananas as mentioned earlier, spinach or broccoli and are full of fiber and Vitamin C.
- There are as many ways to prepare potatoes as there are pots to cook them in, and they're so cheap that there's no reason you can't experiment.
- One of the best things about beets is that they're high in folic acids, which protect against birth defects.
- Fresh beets offer more than just crunch and a variety of colors -- the greens attached to the beets are also tasty and can be sautéed with garlic and some olive oil and be eaten just like spinach or used in soups to provide some extra texture and nutrition.
- Claims that garlic prevents cancer and lowers cholesterol have been challenged.
- Garlic is delicious. Cut off the top, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in tin foil, and roast at 400 degrees until the cloves (only 4 calories apiece) are soft and spreadable.
- Root vegetables, including the onion, even have a place in the cocktail world. A Gibson is one of the few cocktails that's garnished with an onion.
- Probably to all the wonderful flavor they contribute to a recipe, Americans consume about 20 pounds of onions per capita every year.
- A serving of onion has only 45 calories and can transform the taste and aroma of casseroles, sautés, salads and sandwiches -- and just about anything else.
- Rutabagas are considered a cabbage-turnip hybrid. They're easy to grow and, once you pull them from the ground, they can keep in your cupboard for up to three whole months. The big, yellow root vegetables have a stronger, more peppery flavor than their mild-mannered turnip cousins, and have more vitamin A and beta carotene, as well.
- More and more, cooks and chefs are turning the turnip into a more popular root vegetable. Often, they’ll blend turnips into their next batch of mashed potatoes. Turnips have a sweet flavor and plenty of vitamin C.
- Root vegetables are not always as popular with kids but when blended with their favorite vegetables, parents can introduce the little ones to new flavors.
Arizona Farm Bureau’s Fill Your Plate has a variety of vegetable recipes that include the root vegetables we identify in this article. The opportunities are endless.
And, did you miss our Saturday morning "Farm Fresh Segment on Rosie on the House? Below is the entire show discussion.
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