Parsnips are sweet, fleshy underground taproots closely related to the carrot family of vegetables. They indeed have similar appearance and growth characteristics as other Apiaceae family members like carrots, parsley, celery, cumin, dill, etc. Botanically, they belong to the Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) family, in the genus, Pastinaca.
Scientific name: Pastinaca sativa.
Pastinaca sativa is a biennial cool season crop native to the Mediterranean region. In its first year, it grows to about 1-1.5 meter in height and bears underground taproots which generally harvested after the first frost of the season. If left undisturbed, the plant develops umbrella-shaped clusters of small yellow flowers and seeds during the next season.
Its fleshy, stout roots appear as that of carrots, but are white or cream in color and sweeter in taste than carrots. Adequate winter frost is essential for a good crop to yeild since it facilitates the conversion of much of its starch into sugars and helps develop long, narrow, and firm parsnips. The roots generally harvested when they reach about six to ten inches in length, by pulling entire plant along with its root (uprooting) as in carrots.
Health benefits of parsnips
Generally, parsnip contains more sugar than carrots, radish, turnips. It has calories (100 g provide 75 calories) equal to that of some fruits like banana, and grapes. Nonetheless, its sweet, juicy root carries no cholesterol, is rich in several health-benefiting phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
It is one of the excellent sources of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. 100 g root provides 4.9 mg or 13% of fiber. Adequate fiber in the diet helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, obesity, and constipation conditions.
As in carrots and other members of Apiaceae family vegetables, parsnip too contains many poly-acetylene anti-oxidants such as falcarinol, falcarindiol, panaxydiol, and methyl-falcarindiol.
Several research studies from scientists at the University of Newcastle, Tyne found that these compounds possess anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and anti-cancer function and offer protection from colon cancer and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Fresh roots are also good in vitamin-C; provide about 17 mg or 28% of RDA. Vitamin-C is a powerful water-soluble antioxidant, readily available to us from natural sources. It helps the human body maintain healthy connective tissue, teeth, and gum. Its anti-oxidant property helps protect from diseases and cancers by scavenging harmful free radicals from the body.
Further, the root is rich in many B-complex groups of vitamins such as folic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid as well as vitamin-K and vitamin-E.
Further, it also has healthy levels of minerals like iron, calcium, copper, potassium, 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.
Selection and storage
Inside the Northern Europe, parsnip season begins soon after the first frost and last until March when fresh arrivals flood the markets. It is not uncommon to find parsnips and carrots grown by many families in their home gardens during the season.
In the markets choose fresh, firm, fleshy, medium size, even surfaced parsnips. Avoid long, thin, and tail like roots, as they are stringy and less sought-after in cooking. Furthermore, avoid, woody, over-mature ones, as they are off-flavored. Do not buy soft, shriveled, pitted, knobby, or damaged roots.
Store parsnips in a plastic bag and place in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator set between 0°C and 5°C. Do not put raw parsnips in the freezer compartment.
Preparation and serving methods
To prepare, wash them in cold water and scrub or gently peel the skin. Trim off its ends. Cut into cubes, disc, and pieces as you desire.
Parsnips cooked in a similar way like carrots. Do not overcook. Indeed, they quickly become soft since they contain more sugar than starch.
Here are some serving tips:
Raw parsnips add unique sweet taste to salads, coleslaw, and toppings.
It can be cooked and mashed with potato, leeks, cauliflower, etc.
Slices and cubes added to stews, soups, and stir-fries and served with poultry, fish, and meat.
It can be employed in bread, pies, casseroles, cakes, etc., in a variety of savory dishes.
Parsnip plant and its parts may cause hypersensitivity reactions like contact dermatitis and oral allergy syndrome (OAS) when handled in some sensitive individuals. The reaction symptoms may include rash and skin lesions. Some of the common OAS symptoms may include itching or burning sensation in the lips, mouth, and throat. In severe cases swelling of the lips, tongue, and redness in eyes, and breathing difficulty may be observed. Individuals with a known history of allergy to birch category pollen agents like walnuts, fig, carrots, parsley, etc., may develop cross-sensitivity to parsnip and should be avoided.