Once upon a time, not so very long ago, nobody was all that excited about root vegetables. According to Mark Bittman, a best-selling cookbook author and former columnist for The New York Times: “The only root vegetables anyone paid attention to were carrots and potatoes. Turnips were déclassé, celeriac unheard of, beets a pain to clean.”
That perception has, obviously, changed. According to Bittman, there are three major reasons for that. First, the perception that root vegetables are lame was wrong to begin with; second, if you want to eat locally and seasonally, that means eating root veggies in winter, “even if you live in California”; and third, quite simply because “roasted root vegetables are, like, the greatest thing ever.”
Even if you know all about the delicious flavor and impressive health benefits of root vegetables, you may find yourself overlooking these humble denizens of the produce aisle in favor of flashier options. So we’ve compiled the ultimate list of root vegetables to remind you of all the reasons to love these funny valentines of the vegetable world.
The Ultimate List of Root Vegetables
As root veggies have become more popular, and droves of people have begun combing their local farmers markets for obscure, dirt-covered offerings to try out in the best and latest root vegetable recipes, some confusion seems to have arisen about the definition of a root vegetable.
In the simplest terms, any underground part of a plant eaten by humans counts as a root vegetable. Botanists differentiate between true roots (a category that includes both tap roots and tuberous roots) and non-root parts dug up from the ground (such as bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers), but the confusion we’re talking about is much less technical.
Brussels sprouts, for instance, are just not root vegetables. They do not grow underground. They grow on stalks. And butternut squash? Also not a root veggie! It grows on a vine. What both Brussels sprouts and butternut squash have in common with root vegetables, of course, is that they taste absolutely delicious when drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with black pepper, and roasted on a baking sheet until they’re perfectly caramelized. Just because something makes a delicious roasted vegetable side dish does not mean it’s a root vegetable, though.
The following 15 taproots, bulbs, tubers, and so on, however, are verified root vegetables.
Both golden beets and red beets have an earthy, sweet flavor when raw that intensifies gloriously when roasted.
They also have a plethora of health benefits. Beets contain high levels of nitrates, a compound that can increase your endurance and improve your post-workout recovery time.
Research has shown that increasing your intake of beets (typically, in the form of beet juice, to maximize the amount of nutrients you get per serving) can improve circulation, decrease inflammation, and help you to exert yourself intensely for a longer period of time.
When professional cyclists supplemented with beetroot juice, they were able to shave minutes off their best race times while showing fewer signs of physical stress after exerting themselves.
Though this root vegetable remains relatively unknown in the United States, it’s been celebrated in Peru and Colombia for more than 3,000 years. Due to its ability to thrive in extremely hot climates, boniato has become quite popular in South Florida as well.
Also called camote or batata, the boniato belongs to the same family as sweet potatoes. The texture of boniato flesh tends to be firmer than that of sweet potatoes. The flavor, thanks to lower sugar content, is less sweet and has rich notes of chestnut. Boniato also contains less moisture, so it makes a fluffier mash!
Boniato ranks fairly low on the glycemic index with about 50% the sugar per serving as sweet potatoes. They contain practically no fat or cholesterol, a small amount of protein, and a wealth of nutrients including vitamin C, beta-carotene, and fiber.
People around the globe adore carrots, as does one very famous cartoon rabbit (“What’s up, doc?”).
Carrots get their signature saturated orange color from a kind of antioxidant called carotenoids. Studies show that carotenoids can majorly benefit your health—especially the health of your eyes and skin.
Carrots give you a good dose of a number of other health-promoting nutrients, too, like vitamins C, D, E, and K, and magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Research has found that eating carrots can lower your cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation and protect against gastric ulcers, and even reduce your risk of developing cancer, among other health benefits.
Also called yucca, this starchy root vegetable ranks as one of the top dietary staples in tropical regions around the world. Cassava provides a ton of nutrients per serving and can withstand the most challenging growing conditions. It can even withstand droughts!
Cassava can have powerful health benefits, largely due to the high quantities of resistant starch it provides. Resistant starch passes through your digestive tract unchanged and functions like soluble fiber.
High-quality scientific evidence shows that eating foods high in resistant starch, like cassava, can help to prevent several chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity, and colon cancer.
5. Celery Root
Perhaps most famous for being decidedly unsexy and even downright ugly, celery root’s unappealing outsides contain a bounty of delights.
Also called celeriac, or celeriac root, this relatively obscure vegetable looks like, well, a dirty, hairy tennis ball. But don’t let that turn you off! Once you remove the tough, bumpy outer skin, you’ll have access to the lovely, creamy inner flesh. A few of our favorite ways to prepare celery root include sautéing, puréeing, roasting, and slicing into thin ribbons to serve as a crisp, fresh salad.
Celery root yields troves of nutrients that research has linked to a multitude of health benefits. For instance, the high concentrations of vitamin K found in celery root help to ensure that the calcium you take in travels straight to your bones, rather than getting deposited in your heart valves and arteries. This simultaneously helps to prevent the development of heart disease and ensures your bones stay strong and healthy.
6. Jerusalem Artichoke
Lately, it’s become more common to see Jerusalem artichokes referred to as sunchokes, but whatever you call this root vegetable, it’s a true culinary treat.
Jerusalem artichokes have tough, dark skin and a white, starchy inside with a flavor that’s quite similar to that of potatoes. This wonderful root outperforms pretty much every other root veggie when it comes to protein content. It’s an incredibly good source of sulfur-containing amino acids—like taurine, methionine, homocysteine, and cysteine—which have potent antioxidant properties.
Studies show that the sulfur-containing amino acids found in Jerusalem artichokes can improve the flexibility of your connective tissue as well as enhance your liver’s detoxification capacities.
The healing properties of onions have been recognized for centuries. In a number of ancient medical traditions, onions were used to cure headaches, heart disease, and mouth sores, among other health conditions.
All types of onions—red onions, yellow onions, Vidalia onions, etcetera—are remarkably nutrient-dense. A medium onion, on average, contains a mere 44 calories paired with a whopping dose of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Onions provide plenty of B vitamins, including folate (vitamin B9) and pyridoxine (vitamin B6), which help your body properly digest food, produce red blood cells, and protect cognitive function.
Parsnips belong to the same family as carrots, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking of them as carrots with less color. Parsnips have a concentrated, candy-sweet flavor and can be a welcome way to shake up your root veggie routine.
These nutrient-rich roots provide plenty of vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, folate, fiber, potassium, and more. A 1-cup serving of parsnips provides nearly 40% of the manganese you need each day.
Manganese, an essential nutrient, supports the healthy functioning of your brain, nervous system, and many of your body’s enzyme systems. One way it does this is as part of an extremely strong antioxidant compound called superoxide dismutase (SOD), which helps neutralize free radicals that can otherwise damage your brain cells.
The bad health rap of white potatoes ranging from fingerling potatoes to Yukons to Russets to Red Golds to Kennebecs really isn’t deserved. It’s true that many classic potato dishes aren’t the most nutritious, but that has more to do with our tendency to load potatoes up with butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, bacon, and so on than the innate traits of the potatoes themselves.
In fact, a humble potato provides more potassium than a famously high-potassium banana! A fair amount of that potassium can be found in potato skin, so if you’re looking to maximize your intake of this essential nutrient, be sure to leave the skin on.
Potassium benefits your health in numerous ways, including lowering your blood pressure by acting as a vasodilator (meaning it helps your blood vessels relax).
Tragically undervalued radishes are simply packed with nutrients. While we here in the United States have been sleeping on the benefits of radishes, other cultures have been using them as a folk remedy for ages. In Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), radishes are used to treat conditions including fever, sore throat, bile disorders, and inflammation.
And cutting-edge research suggests radishes may be able to help treat cancer too. Radishes contain a kind of compound called isothiocyanates that scientists have found can fight off cancer-causing substances and prevent tumor development.
According to a study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, radish root extract can cause the death of several types of cancer cells.
A cross between cabbage and turnips, there’s plenty to recommend the rutabaga to your attention. They’re sweeter than turnips, easier to peel than celery root, and contain half the calories that potatoes do. Oh, and just wait until you experience how good they taste when roasted and caramelized. We’re drooling just thinking about it…
Rutabagas also provide a shocking amount of antioxidants considering how low-calorie they are. They’re a particularly good source of glucosinolates, sulfur-containing antioxidants that can potentially slow the growth of cancer cells.
Studies have shown that the glucosinolates found in root vegetables like rutabaga are especially effective against cancers that attack the lungs and digestive tract.
12. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes have become hyper-popular in recent years. In 2000, the average American ate 4 pounds of sweet potatoes. And in 2017, that number shot up to nearly double that: 7.5 pounds per person.
These versatile veggies are available year-round and offer up a bounty of nutrients that can benefit your health on a variety of levels. They’re one of the best sources on the planet of vitamin A, plus they provide a significant quantity of vitamin B5, vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and slow-absorbing starch. And even though they have “sweet” right there in their name, they actually fall lower on the glycemic index than regular white potatoes.
Taro, a starchy root vegetable native to Southeast Asia and India, has brown outer skin and white inner flesh with a purple tinge.
Since it’s similar in flavor and texture to potatoes, taro tends to be used in similar ways. And it’s arguably superior to white potatoes, given its nuttier, richer, more complex flavor and higher nutrient content. Taro contains 3 times the amount of fiber found in a white potato, along with tons of potassium, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin A.
The nutrients in taro have been linked to numerous health benefits. For example, a mountain of evidence shows that people who eat high-fiber foods like taro have lower rates of heart disease.
According to one study, for every additional 10 grams of fiber you eat daily, your risk of dying from heart disease drops by 17%.
Turnips have legions of dedicated fans. These root veggies are crunchier than potatoes yet starchier than radishes. Plus, they feature a lovely, all-natural pink ombré effect.
Turnips, which belong to the cruciferous family of vegetables, taste lovely both roasted and raw. Like the other members of the cruciferous family, they contain a kind of phytonutrient called indole-3-carbinol, which research has shown can decrease your risk of cancer.
If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you’re probably used to seeing the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” used interchangeably. The thing is, sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato.
True yams, native to Africa and Asia, range in size from the length of an average potato to lengths of 5 feet! They’re less sweet, starchier, and drier than sweet potatoes and have characteristic dark, rough skin.
Yams, like sweet potatoes, are quite nutrient dense. They’re chock-full of vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
The nutrients found in yams have been linked to an assortment of health benefits. For instance, both magnesium and vitamin B6 can support healthy weight loss.