October/November 2007

Getting to Know: Root Vegetables

A trip to the market reveals that root vegetables are no longer just wintertime fare. Here are 16 varieties, some common and some obscure, as well as our tasting notes.


Before Dutch farmers bred orange carrots to honor the House of Orange in the 17th century, this member of the parsley family was white, yellow, green, red, and even black. Most bagged “baby” carrots sold in supermarkets are actually mature carrots that are cut down to size.


Also known as celery root, this gnarled bulb is a variety of celery grown specifically for the root. The flavor is a cross between “celery and parsley,” with a “lemony tinge” and a soft but “slightly fibrous" texture. Peel, finely chop, and eat raw or steam, boil, or roast.


Parsnips are “sugary and floral,” like a “carrot doused in perfume.” Since older, larger parsnips can be tough and fibrous, look for parsnips that are no more than 1 inch in diameter. Peel and steam, boil, sauté, or use our favorite method, roasting.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes can have light-yellow to deep-orange flesh; as a rule, the orange-fleshed tubers are sweeter and more tender. They do not store as well as potatoes and should be eaten within a week or two of purchase.


Yams are not a variety of sweet potato but rather wooly-skinned tubers from the tropics; true yams are uncommon in American home cooking. Yams have an “over-the-top-starchy” texture and a “bland, cardboard” taste. Steam or boil.

Purple Carrot

Purple carrots hold their striking color when cooked. Their flavor is “floral and winey” but “less sweet” than orange carrots. Be aware that, once peeled, the flesh of this carrot has a staining effect similar to beets.


Turnips are recognizable by their off-white skin capped with a purple halo. When young, turnips are tender and sweet, but as they age they become increasingly “sulphurous,” with a “tough, woody texture” and “bitter aftertaste.” Peeled turnips can be steamed, boiled, or roasted.


A close relative of the turnip, this large root has thin skin and sweet, golden flesh. Its flavor is reminiscent of “broccoli and mustard,” with a “horseradish aftertaste” and “dense, crunchy” texture. Steam, boil, or roast.


Jicama’s thin skin is easily peeled to reveal cream-colored, “crisp-textured” flesh that tastes like a mix of “apple, potato, and watermelon.” It is often cut into matchsticks and added to salads, but it can also be steamed, boiled, fried, or even pickled.


Also called yuca or manioc, cassava has a “dry, super-starchy” texture and a “boring” flavor that “is vaguely reminiscent of popcorn.” Although raw cassava can be poisonous, thorough cooking eliminates any danger. Steam, boil, or fry.


Though sometimes called Japanese or Chinese artichokes, these tiny, segmented tubers are native to France. The skin is edible and the flesh pleasantly crunchy, with a “water chestnut–like” texture and a “slight artichoke flavor.” Steam, boil, sauté, or roast.

Jerusalem Artichoke

Also called sunchokes, these tubers are the roots of a variety of sunflower. Although they resemble gingerroot, their thin skin covers a “crunchy” white flesh that is “distinctly nutty,” with a slight “smoky” taste. Slice thinly and eat raw or steam, boil, or roast.

Red Beet

Sometimes called “garden beets,” red beets have a “smooth, dense” flesh with a “sweet, earthy” flavor. Peel, shred, and eat raw; roast, boil, or steam until tender; or sauté the flavorful greens.

Golden Beet

Golden beets have brilliant yellow flesh that is “sweet and mild.” Although they taste similar to red beets, their juices do not stain in the same way, making them ideal for tossing into salads or combining with other vegetables.


This elongated root vegetable comes in two varieties, black and white. They can be used interchangeably, and both exhibit a “briny, oyster-like” taste and a “firm, artichokey” quality. Steam, boil, or roast.

Lotus Root

Lotus root is the subaquatic stem of a variety of water lily. Its smooth skin hides tunneled, flower-patterned flesh with a “slippery but crisp” texture and “subtle mushroom” flavor. Store lotus root submerged in water. Peel and steam or boil.