BY  JAY TOWELL/Director of Student Nutrition

I recently was in a restaurant carefully considering the vegetables that were offered and noticed what seemed to be a larger than average variety of root vegetables. Root vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables and they each have their own set of health benefits and share many of the same characteristics. Because root vegetables grow underground, they absorb a great amount of nutrients and are packed with a high concentration of antioxidants, Vitamins C, B, A and iron which is, well, a natural cleanser.  They are also filled with slow-burning carbohydrates and fiber, which make you feel full, and help regulate your blood sugar and digestive system. These factors, plus the high-octane nutrients, low calories, make root vegetables a great choice for weight management and for good health.

Now, back to the restaurant story.  Other than being an odd observation, this variety prompted me to look more closely at the root vegetable and the lack of “Root Vegetable Acclaim,”so let’s rank my Top 5 and Bottom 5 Root Vegetables.

Bottom 5 Root Vegetables:

#5:  Radish:  The radish receives low marks for its lack of versatility, low use, excluding the periodic salad and somewhat of an acquired taste with a distinct bite and suspect texture. The radish does receive some positive consideration for being a good looking root vegetable, but not enough to boost it above the #5 ranking.

#4:  Jicama:  This is a round bulbous root vegetable that is part of the legume family and seems to have gained more appeal and acclaim in the past few years.  The health benefits of jicama include providing a good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, E, B6, folate and potassium to name a few.  The interior is similar to a potato or a pear for example in relation to consistency and color, however, the starch content is high. Jicama has somewhat of a sweet flavor and adds another health benefit of containing inert carbohydrates that do not metabolize into simple sugars which can be a great way for those who are diabetic to have a sweet food without the worry of the blood sugar fluctuation. Jicama can be served raw and accepts citrus very well such as fresh lime juice.  To spice it up, mix lime juice and chili powder for a tangy nutritious kick.  Jicama has been described as the “new vegetable favorite” in some culinary circles, but not in this reporters circle and still receives a low score.

#3:  ParsnipSounds more like a hunting trick than a vegetable; however, parsnips resemble a carrot, only white in color and have a cinnamon-y flavor which makes it a “warmer” and more soothing flavor.  Their texture is harder than a carrot, and the parsnip receives positive points for their value in soups, but that is about the extent of their usefulness in this reporter’s humble culinary opinion. 

#2:  Turnips:  Turnips are a versatile root vegetable and also have a subtle flavor; however, to have a culinary value, turnips must be paired with a more strongly flavored vegetable.  Turnips receive points for standing up well when roasted or sautéed but lose points for always needing help.

#1:  Rutabagas:  These are similar to turnips with a subtle flavor; however, their taste is a bit, well, earthly if you will.  Rutabagas require additional herbs such as dill or a citrus such as a lime to dress it up.

Top 5 Root Vegetables:

 #5:  Beets:  Touted as a “superfood,” beets are among the healthiest foods on the planet. Beets are full of beta-carotene and betaliains which are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Beets have somewhat of an earthy flavor with a hint of sweetness to tame that “natural” flavor. Beets are prepared best when roasted or steamed. Add a citrus component such as oranges for example which creates a very nice compliment to the flavor profile. Although additional points are awarded for color and perhaps the pickled option, that is not enough to boost beets above my #5 ranking.

#4:  Garlic: A culinary versatile root vegetable; however, there is an actual debate as to whether or not garlic are true root vegetables because they are bulbs and their roots do not grow as deep. Garlic is a great compliment and addition to so many dishes whether raw or cooked, and the versatility grades well on the scoreboard for the garlic vote. Garlic is also considered to be a heart-healthy vegetable, increases circulation and acts as an anti-inflammatory.  While these areas add positive points, garlic does lose points as a first date recommendation.

#3:  Carrot:  Crisp and sweet, carrots are one the most popular root vegetables and more widely accepted at all age levels along with their versatility. Carrots match well with just about any vegetable and both raw and cooked options can be paired nicely with any spice or herb. The rich color is also appealing which adds points in the carrot ranking.

#2:  Celery:  Celery is an excellent source of vitamin K, folate, potassium, dietary fiber, manganese and pantothenic acid also known as B5.  In addition, celery is a good source of vitamin B2, copper, vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.  Although the celery has an impressive list of health benefits, the celery receives this reporter’s high ranking because, most importantly, celery serves a much greater purpose as a condiment transfer system.

#1:  Potato:  The potato is by far the favorite and most versatile of all root vegetables with many ways of delectable preparation options, but first, the nutrition. Potatoes are a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, dietary fiber, and pantothenic acid. Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity and are low in calories.  Now that this is out of the way, potatoes are great, baked, fried, roasted, grilled and many other preparation options too numerous to document. Potatoes are an inviting and welcoming root vegetable as they accept a variety of condiments, toppings, spices and herbs enhancing ones culinary experience. The potato by far is the favorite root vegetable consumed and receives the highest point value offered by this humble reporter.

So, the next time you are in a restaurant and you are having a boring conversation, or perhaps on a first date and in need of an ice breaker, or you just have nothing else to do, carefully consider the root vegetable offerings and the healthy advantages that these culinary earthly delights offer. Make your own top 5, bottom 5 list.

Congratulations to all of the Root Vegetables that made this very important list, and I wish each root vegetable higher acclaim and continued success as part of a healthy daily diet.

Bon Appétit!