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Turnip greens nutrition facts

Turnip greens are dark-green leafy tops of turnip plant. The greens indeed hold more nutrition profile than the turnip tuber itself with respect to vitamins, minerals, and health benefiting anti-oxidants. Turnips are brassicacaea family members and have common growth characteristics with other brassica members such as cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, etc.

turnip greens
Turnips with green tops.

Turnips roots can be grown during all the seasons in the temperate regions. However, its top greens can be at their best during winter. Warm climate would be detrimental since it affects the roots which turn woody and brittle, and leaves become deep-green and bitter in taste. The plant requires well drained fertile-rich soil.

Growing technique of turnip's tender greens differs slightly. Turnips should be planted closely at 4 to 6 inches apart to stunt their bulb (tuber) formation and instead direct their nutrition into top greens. Its young tender leaves should be harvested early when the plant reaches about 4-6 inches tall.

Turnip greens feature light green, broad leaves with long petiole rising directly from its root top. They have taste similar to mustard greens but with less intense spicy flavor. Young tender greens indeed feature sweet flavor with subtle taste of peppery note.

Health benefits of turnip greens

  • Turnip tops carry more vitamins and minerals than that of thier tuber. Yet, the leafy tops are very low in calories consisting of just 32 calories per 100 g.

  • Like kale and mustard greens, turnip tops are quite compact in terms of nutrition profile of vitamins and minearls and health benefiting anti-oxidant properties.

  • Turnip greens are one of the excellent sources of ß-carotene, lutein and zea-xanthin. 100 g fresh raw greens provide 6952 µg, and 11984 µg of ß-carotene and lutein-zeaxanthin levels respectively. These flavonoids have strong anti-oxidant and anti-cancer activities. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A inside the human body.

  • Zea-xanthin, an important dietary carotenoid, is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes where it thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering functions. Thus, it helps prevent retinal detachment and offer protection against "age-related macular degeneration related macular degeneration disease" (ARMD) in the elderly.

  • The top greens are one of the highest vitamin A sources in the plant kingdom. 100 g leaves provide 11587 IU or 386% of RDA. Vitamin A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin and is essential for vision. Foods rich in this vitamin are known to offer protection against lung and oral cavity cancers.

  • Again, they are among the top vegetable sources for vitamin-K; 100 g provides 251 ug of this vitamin that is about 209% of recommended intake. Vitamin K has potential role in bone health by promoting osteotrophic (bone formation and strengthening) activity. Adequate vitamin-K levels in the diet help limiting neuronal damage in the brain; thus, has established role in the treatment of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

  • 100 g of fresh leaves contain 60 mg or 100% of daily-recommended levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a moderately powerful water-soluble antioxidant which helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.

  • This leafy vegetable is notably good in many B-complex groups of vitamins such as riboflavin, folate (48% of RDA/100g), niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, pantothenic acid, etc., that are essential to the body as part of co-enzymes during the metabolism in the body.

  • Its leaves are also rich source of minerals like magnesium, copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is required for cellular oxidation and red blood cell formation.

Turnip greens are one of the finest sources of essential vitamins, minearls and anti-oxidants that can offer protection from vitamin A deficiency, osteoporosis, iron-deficiency anemia, and believed to protect from cardiovascular diseases and possibly from colon cancers.

Selection and storage

turnips tops in a market
Turnip greens with tubers in a market.

Turnip tops are at their best during fall and spring. Fresh greens are also readily available all around the year. In the market, choose freshly harvested tops either alone or bearing tuber. Choose fresh looking, young tender deep green leaves with firm petiole. Generally, the top greens are tied in bunches and sold along with their small-taproot. In that case, look for small, healthy, firm turnip tubers.

Avoid yellow, sunken, wilted, or over-matured leaves as they are less appetizing and spoil early. As like any other greens, turnip tops too perish early and should be consumed as soon as its harvest.

Once at home, severe the top greens form the root, using a knife an inch above the root top. If left intact, the greens deprive moisture and nutrients of the tuber. Store them inside the refrigerator set at high relative humidity of over 95% where they stay fresh for 2-3 days.

Preparation and serving methods

Turnips tops are at their best during winter and spring lasting from November until February. Wash the greens in a cold water to rid off any surface dirt. Mop them dry using a paper towel. Chop closely using a serrated knife for even cooking.

Turnip tops feature very broad leaves akin to beets or swiss chard with long and sometimes broad, thick petiole. Trim away any tough and woody petioles. Remove any old overmature, wilted, bruised leaves. Then, wash prepared leaves in a colander under cold tap water to remove any surface sand and dirt. Gently swish away excess water or mop dry using a paper towel. Chop the leaves and petioles to desired length using a kitchen knife. Young tender greens can be eaten raw or preferable mixed with other greens and vegetables. However, large mature leaves are quite bitter in taste as they contain lots minerals and vitamins and preferred to only after cooked, sautéed, steamed or braised.

Here are some serving tips:

  • In the Southern part of United States, many Southern-style dishes prepared using fresh harvested turnip tops especially mixed with complementing greens such as kale, collards, mustard greens along with bacon, and salt-cured pork in mouth-watering recipes.

  • In south Asia, turnip greens generally mixed with milder greens like spinach in the preparation of saag recipes. The greens can be added in stuffing, casseroles, quiche, stews, stir-fry, etc.

  • Although not as popular as kale chips, greens of turnips can be used as chips.

  • Turnip greens can be juiced into a healthy drink. However, raw greens impart bitter taste and a tinge of soreness to the oral mucus membrane. This can be avoided by juicing gently steamed greens in place of raw ones.

Safety profile

Oxalic acid content in the turnip greens is very low (0.05 g/100g) on comparison to other high oxalate content greens and vegetables like turnip-tuber (0.21g/100g), amaranth (1.09 g/100g), parsley (1.70 g/100g), etc. This bitter principle in mature leaves is because of their high mineral content. It can be minimized by boiling turnip greens in hot water and then discarding it before adding the greens in recipes. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further resources:

1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

2. University of Illinois Extension-Watch your garden grow.

3. Oxalic acid content of selected vegetables-USDA.

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