Recently, I had a caller contact my office to ask me if I could tell them what rutabagas were and what could be done with them. So, I decided that if one person was asking me this question, maybe there are others out there that don’t know what rutabagas are.

In laymen’s term, a rutabaga is known as a Swedish turnip. Believed to have been developed during the Middle Ages, rutabagas are thought to be a cross between the turnip and the cabbage.

Rutabagas are classified as a root vegetable with an edible fleshy root as well as their leaves. Noted for their nutty and sweet flavor, they can be consumed raw or cooked.

Rutabagas are typically harvested in the fall. The appearance of the rutabagas is purple- to yellow-tinged skin. They can be stored for long periods, since they contain less moisture than some vegetables.

Since rutabagas are a root vegetable, they offer various health benefits. It is known for a high antioxidant compound, glucosinolates, which has been shown to reduce the growth of cancer. Research over time has shown that diets that contain glucosinolates have been beneficial in reducing or preventing certain types of cancer cells.

Rutabagas are high in dietary fiber. One small rutabaga contains over 17 percent of daily fiber requirements. High-fiber diets improve digestion and lessen the risk for gastrointestinal disease. Those who suffer from constipation or hemorrhoids may find comfort in eating more high-fiber foods on a daily intake.

Rutabagas are high in potassium, a critical mineral for proper cell function and development. Potassium helps to lower blood pressure as well as regulate other systems in our body. An excellent source of vitamin C, rutabagas provide 80 percent of daily needs. Vitamin C is important for boosting the immune system. By increasing your intake of rutabagas, you will be reducing your risk of infections.

Preparing rutabagas is easy. Select firm, round, medium-sized rutabagas. Wash them by rinsing the outer surface and allowing them to dry before cutting. They can be roasted, steamed, baked or boiled, and added to dishes or served alone. Be creative, as this vegetable is adaptable to incorporate into your meals.

The long-term storage or preservation of rutabagas is best achieved by freezing. Canning rutabagas will create off flavors and color changes that will not be pleasing to the eye.

Rick Kralj is a Penn State Extension senior educator in food safety and quality.