Parsnips, An Underutilized Root Vegetable

  | Food For Thought, Nutrition

Are you searching for another vegetable to enjoy other than the commonly used carrot, potato, or beet—one that is locally available during the winter months? Well, then, you must try the wonderful parsnip, a winter root that is seriously underutilized and underappreciated!! I recall eating parsnips as a child many years ago, when very few people seemed to know about them. I was not all that fond of them, since my mom usually steamed them. To her credit, she was just eager to expose her young kids to many different vegetables. But there are so many other ways to prepare parsnips that are much tastier and more appealing.

Parsnips are in the Umbelliferae family. Other members include carrots, parsley, celeriac, and fennel.  The Greeks and Romans considered parsnips to be an aphrodisiac. Parsnips are thought to have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean region and grew wild over much of the European continent. When the parsnip was harvested back then, its size was similar to that of a baby carrot, which may well have been the wild variety. Because of its sweetness, it became one of the most popular vegetables –it was, in fact, more popular than the carrot. The parsnip eventually grew in size, most likely a result of cultivation. The parsnip eventually came to this country by way of the early settlers and was introduced to Native Americans who readily accepted and began to grow them. Before the development of the sugar beet, the settlers and Native Americans used parsnip juice as a sweetener.  

Parsnips and turnips were used frequently before the potato arrived and then they were cast to the wayside. Today few people are familiar with this vegetable that is locally available so late in the season.  Parsnips are rarely grown in warmer climates since it requires cold temperatures to bring out its sweet flavor and taste. Farmers often believe that the longer it can be stored in the ground in winter the sweeter it is. Some farmers harvest parsnips after the first hard frost, while others leave them in the ground and wait to harvest them in early spring. 

Parsnips are a storehouse of beneficial nutrients: B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, potassium, calcium, copper, phosphorus, and a good source of fiber as well. They also contain a powerful antioxidant, falcarindiol, which has been found to prevent cancer, specifically colon cancer. Parsnips have been shown to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. They also are a great detoxifier for the body. 

When on a mission to purchase parsnips, here are a few things to remember:

  • Choose parsnips that are firm and not too large since large parsnips are often tough and less flavorful.
  • Store them in the refrigerator for no more than a month. 
  • Scrub parsnips well since, after being in the ground for an extended period of time, there tends to be dirt burrowed into their many crevices, or just peel them. Enjoy the mild nutty and sweet flavor of parsnips using the preparation ideas below:

Here are a few ways you can use them:

  • Shredded raw in a salad.
  • Add sliced parsnips to any soup.
  • Steam parsnip slices, mash them, and add to your mashed potatoes for a delicious new flavor.

By Chris Ellis