Is it a pale carrot? Is it a skinny turnip? Nope, it’s a parsnip! These biennial plants are taproots that hail from Eurasia have been cultivated since ancient times, and while the edibleness of their pungent leaves has been under debate, the fleshy stalks make for a delicious and healthy way to get in some of your five-a-day. Parsnips – which are part of the same “family” as carrots, as well as celery and parsley – do resemble carrots in many ways in their texture and even taste, but depending on how they’re cooked, they can be extremely versatile in both uses as well as their ability to take on the taste of whatever they’re flavoured with. They’re also chock full of health benefits: While they do have a higher sugar content than carrots, they’re packed with fibre, folate, potassium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and vitamin K, and have been said to help support everything from bone and teeth health to the immune system, nerve function, and brain health.
How do you use it?
As we mentioned, one of the greatest things about parsnips is their versatility: You can cook them in a multitude of ways, wherein simple is as good as anything else. Saute or roast them with herbed butter or garlic, or roast them along with other root veggies. You can pickle them or toss them into soups, or slice them thin and make them into crispy vegetable crisps. Trying to avoid potatoes? Parsnips make a beautiful mash, which can be used on its own or in other dishes such as Shepherd’s Pie. Potato fiends who are trying to find alternatives to the spud will also be thrilled to discover the joys of parsnip fries, and this veggie goes remarkably well with hearty, flavourful meaty dishes such as roasted lamb shank or steak. Alternatively, you can also try them sweet by tossing them in maple syrup and roasting them for a heart-warming autumnal dish.
Thanks to their relatively high sugar content when compared to other similar veggies such as carrots, parsnips can also be made into jams and flours for use in cakes (as the starches in them will convert to sugar very well under the right cooking circumstances) – but that’s not all. Parsnips have also been turned into wine in the past, and in ancient Roman times, they were also thought of as an aphrodisiac.