I love turnips and radishes. I've grown both and often use them interchangeably in cooking. I've become fascinated by the differences between these very similar root veggies and I'm excited to share how to tell apart a turnip vs radish.
While both belong to the brassica family, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Their sharp flavor tingles the taste buds and adds refreshing, crisp texture to all sorts of salads and stew . Despite their similar taste, there are some distinct differences. Read on and find out!
Turnips vs. Radishes The Main Difference
The most obvious difference between turnips and radishes is their appearance. Turnips are usually larger and rounder, with white flesh and a slightly earthy taste. Radishes come in a wider variety of colors, from the small and round red radish to the oblong watermelon radish. While their appearance is the easiest way to tell them apart, you'll see as you read on, that it's not always that easy.
Both root veggies have a crisp texture and a peppery, sometimes sweet flavor with turnips being the sweeter of the two, and radishes the spicier cousin. (Check out the recipe for naturally pickled Fermented Radishes.)
Another difference between these similar-looking root vegetables is time it takes to grow them. Turnips are a cool-season crop and can be planted in early spring or late summer, while radishes are a fast-growing, early spring vegetable. Radishes are also typically harvested earlier than turnips, as they mature in just 3-4 weeks. While small varieties of turnips can be harvested as early, many take 55-75 days or even longer, to reach maturity.
Turnip Varieties + Characteristics
Turnips come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the classic white and purple globe turnip to the green turnip and the hakurei turnip. The white globe turnip is the most common and is best cooked. It has a slightly bitter, earthy taste that is mellowed when cooked. The green turnip is a bit spicier and has a more robust flavor, while the hakurei turnip and other baby bunch turnips are sweeter and crispier, with a delicate texture. Scarlet turnips are small and brightly colored, a perfect turnip for salad and raw eating. Golden turnips have a flavor reminiscent of almonds and Gilfeather turnips are a rutabaga hybrid that has a potato like texture.
Older turnips are better cooked while younger turnips are tasty eaten raw or cooked.
In addition to their root, turnips also have edible leaves that are similar in taste to mustard greens. These leaves can be cooked or eaten raw and add a bit of bitterness to salads or stir-fries.
Radish Varieties + Characteristics
Radishes come in a plethora of varieties, each with its own unique flavor and crunchy texture. They can grow white, pink, red, purple and even yellow or black on the outside. The insides are usually white but can be pink or striped too.
Classic red radishes have a crisp texture and a spicy, peppery taste. The French breakfast radish is oblong and has a milder, sweeter flavor than the red radish. The watermelon radish, as the name suggests, has a pinkish-red flesh that resembles a watermelon and a slightly sweet taste. Daikon radishes are an Asian radish that is larger than most and white with a more mild flavor than most smaller varieties. The long black Spanish radish is dramatically black on the outside with crisp white flesh on the inside. These are just a few of the many, many varieties of radishes.
Like turnips, radish leaves are also edible and can be used in cooking. They have a slightly bitter taste and are often used in salads or as a garnish.
Raw Flavor, Texture, and Taste
Both turnips and radishes can be eaten raw, either sliced thin or grated into salads. Baby turnips are best for eating raw. When eaten raw, turnips have a milder taste with a sweet, slightly earthy and bitter flavor. Raw radishes, have a sharp, peppery taste that can be tempered by soaking them in cold water before eating.
Grown in hotter dryer conditions, radishes tend to get spicier. They are mildest in cool rainy spring conditions.
When choosing raw turnips and radishes, look for firm, unblemished roots with bright, vibrant colors. The greens should also be bright and crisp, with no yellowing or wilting.
Cooked Flavor, Texture, and Taste
While both turnips and radishes can be eaten raw, they also have tasty unique flavors when cooked. Turnip root takes on a sweeter, more mellow flavor when cooked, and the texture becomes tender and silky. Larger varieties of turnips are usually better cooked than raw.
Radishes, on the other hand, lose some of their spiciness when cooked and become slightly sweet. They also soften and become less crisp.
When cooking turnips and radishes, you can roast, sauté, or boil them. They pair well with other root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, as well as with meats and fish.
Leafy Greens-Turnip Leaves vs. Radish Leaves
Both turnips and radishes have an edible green top with delicious and unique taste. The edible leaves of each have a similar appearance, though turnip greens tend to be larger. They can both be cooked or eaten raw. Turnip leaves, also known as turnip greens, have a slightly bitter taste and can be used in salads or sautéed as a side dish. Radish leaves are slightly more bitter and spicy flavor that is reminiscent of the root. They are often used in salads or as a garnish.
When choosing turnip and radish leaves, look for bright, vibrant greens with no yellowing or wilting. You can also use the leaves as an indicator of the freshness of the root – if the leaves are fresh and crisp, the root is likely to be as well.
These root veggies are best stored in the crisper of your fridge or in a perforated plastic bag. This allows air flow but helps. protect them from drying out.
Nutritional Values + Health Benefits
Both turnips and radishes are low in calories, low carb, and high in fiber, making them a great choice for those looking to lose weight, improve heart health or improve their digestion. Turnips are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and calcium, while radishes are high in vitamin C, folate, and potassium. Their high fiber content makes them a good dietary option to control cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and support weight loss.
In addition to their nutritional value, turnips and radishes also contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Creative Ways to Use Turnip + Radish In Cooking
While turnips and radishes are sometimes overlooked in favor of more popular root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, they can be used in some similar ways and some creative recipes too.
You can slice smaller turnips and radishes thin and add them to salads or coleslaw for a crunchy, flavorful texture. They also pair well with other root vegetables in stews and soups.
Turnips are great in baked casseroles or fcubed and fried up like fries or hash browns. Radishes are lovely slowly braised in butter, easing their peppery flavor.
Another way to use turnips and radishes is to roast them with herbs and spices for a flavorful side dish. You can pickle them for a tangy, crunchy snack. Less common, though great for your health is to make radish juice to combine with other juices or use in a Bloody Mary or Caesar cocktail.
Choosing the Right Root for Your Dish
When choosing between turnips and radishes for a dish, consider the flavor and texture you are looking for.
Turnips have a milder, sweeter taste and a tender texture when cooked, while radishes have a sharp, peppery taste and a crisp texture when raw. If you have large, old turnips, they will be best cooked to soften them.
If you want a bit of spice and crunch, go for radishes. If you want a milder, more tender root vegetable, go for turnips.
With these similarities and differences in mind, you can substitute turnips for radishes in many recipes with great success.
Growing Turnips and Radishes
Turnips and radishes are both early spring vegetables. In temperate climates, they can be planted as soon as the soil is workable. Radishes mature quickly and can be harvested in just 3-4 weeks, while turnips take a bit longer and can be harvested in 6-8 weeks.
Both like nutrient rich, well-draining soil with plenty of moisture. The best time to grow these similar root vegetables is when the weather is still cool and damp. Hot summer weather can make them bolt before reaching maturity.
Turnips and radishes are quite easy to grow in the garden. They prefer full sun and well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. It's important to keep the soil consistently moist, as dry soil can cause the roots to become tough and woody.
When it comes to planting, turnips and radishes should be planted about 2 inches apart in rows that are spaced about 12 inches apart. It's best to plant them in early spring, as they prefer cool temperatures.
Once the plants are established, you can thin them out so that the roots have enough room to grow. It's important to keep the area weed-free, as weeds can compete with the turnips and radishes for water and nutrients.
Do Deer Eat Turnips + Radishes?
Yes, deer do eat turnips and radishes. In fact, they are quite fond of them! Deer are most likely to eat turnips and radishes in the early spring, when they are searching for food after a long winter.
To harvest turnips and radishes, gently pull them out of the soil by the greens. If the root is difficult to remove, use a garden fork to loosen the soil around it. Rinse off the root and the greens and store in your crisper if not eating right away.
The Brassica and Cabbage Families
Both turnips and radishes belong to the brassicaceae family, which includes a variety of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. These vegetables are known for their nutritional value and disease-fighting compounds.
The cabbage family, which includes turnips, also includes other popular vegetables like kale, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts. These vegetables are high in fiber and other important nutrients, making them a great addition to a healthy diet.
So, that is it. I hope I've given you a better understanding and appreciation for the similarities and differences of turnip vs radish.
Cheers and happy cooking, Friends! Sabrina