Parsnips are, sadly, often referred to as the “forgotten vegetable.” Though it’s often overshadowed by its flashier relatives, this unassuming little root vegetable has a lot to offer. Here’s everything you need to know about parsnips.
What Are Parsnips?
A parsnip is a root vegetable that is native to Eurasia. Closely related to carrots and parsley, the parsnip is a member of the family Apiaceae.
Its long, cream-colored root, which is left in the ground to mature, kind of looks like a pale carrot—or like a skinny version of Harry the screaming mandrakes in Harry Potter.
The parsnip is biennial, which means it is a flowering plant that takes two years to complete its biological life cycle. In its first growing season, it produces green leaves. If it is left unharvested by its second growing season, the plant sprouts yellow flowers. By this point, though, the root is mostly inedible.
You’ll typically find the best parsnips in stores and farmers’ markets from fall until spring.
Parsnips vs. Carrots
Parsnips and carrots are so similar, our ancestors might have confused the two root vegetables.
Experts believe that ancient Greeks and Romans grew parsnips, but classified them as carrots. This makes pinpointing the parnsip’s origin rather tricky.
Both parsnips and carrots have a unique sweetness about them. In fact, the parsnip was actually used as a pre-cane sugar sweetener in Europe.
However, certain flavor nuances separate one from the other. The parsnip’s sweetness is almost spicy (think nutmeg), while the carrot’s sweetness is reminiscent of a winter squash (think butternut squash).
What Do Parsnips Taste Like?
There’s a lot to take in when you bite into a parsnip. The flavor is starchy like potatoes, sweet like carrots, and bitter like turnips.
In many ways the parsnip is the quintessential root vegetable: complex and earthy with a taste that’s difficult to explain.
Parsnips are chock full of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and antioxidants, which protect against certain chronic conditions.
Low in calories but packed with soluble and insoluble fiber, parsnips encourage healthy digestion and weight management.
They support healthy immune function—just one serving fulfills 25% of your daily vitamin C needs.
How to Cook Parsnips
First things first: Look for straight, small parsnips. This may seem counterintuitive, but large parsnips typically have a thicker, woodier core that’s less tasty and more difficult to chew and cook with.
To prepare a parsnip, avoid peeling it the way you would a carrot—you might accidentally strip away some of the best flavor. Instead, grab a vegetable brush and scrub, scrub, scrub.
Parsnips are often roasted, boiled, or sauteed.
For a great alternative to mashed potatoes, try boiling and mashing a few fresh parsnips this Thanksgiving.
Ready to try your hand at cooking with parsnips? Check out one of our favorite recipes: