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Japanese turnips are small, white, globe-shaped roots with a single straight tendril tail resembling a radish. Its tender skin is crisp with a sweet and a slightly fruity flavor. The Japanese greens have light stems with green round frilly-edged leaves. Japanese turnip greens are edible as well and have a similar taste to mustard greens.
Japanese turnips are available during fall and winter.
Japanese turnips are part of the Brassica Rapa species. The Japanese turnip is also known by the names of hakurei turnip, Tokyo turnip, kabu, and salad turnip. The Japanese turnip is considered to have a sweet taste, however turnips contain a chemical called cyanoglucosides, which may cause turnips to taste incredibly bitter depending on your genetic makeup. The taste of turnips you perceive is determined by whether you inherited genes that are sensitive to cyanide.
Turnips are a great source of vitamin C. Their leafy greens are even more nutritious and offer vitamins A, C, and K as well as folate and calcium.
The Japanese turnip is unlike other turnips in that they can be eaten raw. In fact, it is said they are best eaten raw. The Hakurei turnip has a tender skin that does not require peeling, only scrub well before taking a bite or shaving onto a salad. Hakurei turnips pair well with many foods, including their own greens, and can also be sliced into wedges, sautéed, roasted, quick pickled, boiled or added to soup or stew. When they are cooked they produce a buttery flavor and their sweetness is enhanced.
Turnips are one of the oldest vegetables to be cultivated. In 16th century Europe they were chosen as the “vegetable of nobility” and can be found displayed on the coat of arms for several royal families and townships. Turnips were also traditionally used in Celtic festivals as lanterns, hollowed out like pumpkins for Halloween.
While turnips in general have been around for centuries, Japanese turnips are a newer variety. Japanese turnips were cultivated in Japan in the 1950s when there was famine caused by World War II. Now the Japanese turnip is renowned for having a distinguished and delicate flavor. Japanese turnips grow rather quickly and should be pulled when young and reach 2 inches in diameter. They can withstand moderate frost but are subject to pests including flea beetles and root maggots; floating row covers can be added during sowing to deter pests. Turnips with greens can be stored at a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 14 days. Turnips can also be stored frozen either in raw cubes or fully cooked or mashed.
Recipes that include Japanese Turnips. One is easiest, three is harder.