Parsnip
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The Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a Root Vegetable closely related to the Carrot. Its long tuberous root has cream-colored skin and flesh and can be left in the ground when mature as it becomes sweeter in flavor after winter frosts. Though Parsnips may look like fat white carrots, they aren’t. They don’t make a crunchy, easy Raw snack and must be cooked to unleash their nutty delicious taste.

Parsnips, native to Eurasia, were used to sweeten Jams and Cakes before Sugar was widely available, and were considered a luxury item in ancient Greece and Rome, before being introduced into the United States in the nineteenth century.

Season

The Parsnip is a biennial plant grown as an annual in agricultural production. This vegetable grows in cold temperatures and is best harvested after a hard frost in the fall and winter months. In fact, the flavor of the Parsnip is not fully developed until the roots have been exposed to near-freezing temperatures for two-to-four weeks. Parsnips are considered a Winter Seasonal Vegetable.

Availability

With greenhouse production, Parsnips are also available throughout much of the year in most regions.

Cultivation

There are hundreds of parsnip cultivars, several of which are ideal for home gardens, particularly in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 2a through 9b.

Parsnips are grown predominately for their long tap roots, which look like pale carrots. They have a long growing season, and therefore, the crop will be in place for most of the year. Its seeds are sown outside at the beginning of spring, if the weather is favorable, and the roots harvested in the following winter.

They can grow in almost any soil but thrive best in deep, rich and fairly light ground. Low soil temperatures enhance their flavor, as some of the carbohydrates stored in the roots get converted into sugars.

Parsnips are biennial, meaning they take two years to produce their blossoms and seeds. If you intend to save any seed for future parsnip plantings, leave a few roots in the ground at harvest time. They will re-grow again in the spring and develop their flower stalks.

The first year's foliage resembles celery, with toothed, pinnate leaves. The second year, it forms a multi-branched plant that can grow to 5 ft. tall. In the second year, umbrels of yellow flowers, much like carrots or dill, will form.

To keep Parsnips from developing stunted or oddly-shaped roots, plant the seeds in soil that is at least 8 in. to 1 ft. deep. You shouldn’t need any additional compost or nutrients. Plant seeds fairly early in the spring, perhaps 4 to 5 weeks before your last frost date. Parsnip sprouts aren’t overly strong, and crusted soil can keep them from coming to the surface.

Parsnip seeds do not germinate well and grow slowly, so plant more seeds than you really need. Once they start to sprout, thin down to 1 plant every 3 to 4 in. They can easily get overwhelmed by weeds at the beginning. Therefore, it’s important to keep the growing area weed-free. Be sure to water your plants very evenly and consistently.

You can dig up your Parsnips whenever you want as they can be harvested even when very young. The roots can be tough to pull out, however, so have a shovel handy to dig them out. If you try to harvest them by pulling on the leaves, you’ll likely end up with broken roots. Avoid planting your Parsnips too close to other late-harvested plants, so you don’t have to be too delicate while digging.

Varieties

Parsnip varieties include the following, among others: Harris Model ParsnipAll American ParsnipHollow Crown ParsnipCobham Marrow Parsnip, and The Student Parsnip.

Purchasing

Parsnips can be found year-round in most grocery stores, but they are actually a Winter Seasonal Vegetable harvested in the late fall and available fresh (from storage) through the winter.  When purchasing Parsnips, look for bright, relatively smooth, small-sized to medium-sized specimens with beige skin. They should be blemish-free and very firm.

If you purchase your Parsnips with the “greens” (the stems) still intact, the greens should look fresh and moist.

Storage

As is typical with Root Vegetables, Parsnips store well and have a fairly long shelf-life. Wrap unwashed Parsnips in a paper towel and place them in a plastic zip-top bag. Store them in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper drawer for up to two weeks.

In milder climates, you can even just leave them right in the ground and dig them up as you need them. The cold winter weather keeps them from growing any further, yet keeps them preserved just right. As long as your ground doesn’t freeze solid, this works well. A mulch of straw in the fall can help for later winter digging.

Culinary Uses

Parsnips are not great eating Raw. They must be cooked (often Low & Slow) to bring out their flavor and soften up their texture. Parsnips are often great added to RoastsSoupsBraises and Stews.

Think of Prepping Parsnips much like you would prepare a Carrot. Parsnips should be washed thoroughly and Peeled before cooking. Once peeled, trim the ends and then cut into uniformly shaped and sized Log Cuts or Dices. Smart Kitchen’s exercise on Peel & Trim Parsnips has all of the detail.

There are many different ways to prepare Parsnips. The most typical include as a Side Dish, a Salad Soup and PuréedTo make these dishes Parsnips can be RoastedSimmered or Boiled.

Smart Kitchen has recipes for Mashed Parsnip and FigsCelery Heart, Roasted Parsnip and Apple Salad and a Creamy Parsnip Soup.

The Parsnip is also often used as a substitute for its starchier counterpart, the Potato.

Portion Size

Allow 1/2-1 Parsnip per person.

Substitutes

Carrot

Nutritional Value USDA
PARSNIPS,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 75
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 10mg
7%
Potassium 375mg
5%
Total Carbohydrate 17g
16%
Dietary Fiber 4g
Sugars 4g
Protein 1g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Parsnips contain more sugar than Carrots, Radishes and Turnips, but also have several health-benefiting phyto-nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Parsnips are one of the excellent sources of soluble and insoluble Dietary Fiber (1 serving has 13% of your fiber requirements). Parsnips also contain poly-acetylene antioxidants such as falcarinolfalcarindiolpanaxydiol, and methyl-falcarindiol. These compounds are shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer function and offer protection from colon cancer and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Most fresh roots, like Parsnip, are also good sources of Vitamin C and Parsnip is also a good source of Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, Thiamin, Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin K and Vitamin E. In addition Parsnips also contain good levels of Iron, Calcium, Copper, Potassium, Manganese and Phosphorus.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes