Are Parsnips The Most Misunderstood Vegetable?

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If you've ever wondered how to cook with a parsnip, you're not alone. Farmer Lee Jones — who delivers specialty vegetables to chefs as part of his Ohio-based family business, The Chef’s Garden — says the root vegetable is one of the most misunderstood, and underrated, items in the produce section. So we asked him to tell us everything he knows. 

What Is a Parsnip?  

"Many people don't know what a parsnip is. It looks like a white carrot, but it's actually its own vegetable," says Farmer Lee. Like the carrot, it's a root vegetable, but has a very different flavor and can be used in lots of delicious dishes (try it in Rach’s Korean-Style Chicken and Vegetables).  

What Does a Parsnip Taste Like?  

"It's got a sweet but earthy flavor and sometimes they can be so sweet that they've actually been used as a sweetener in savory dishes and desserts," explains Farmer Lee.  

Farmer Lee adds that during World War II, when sugar was rationed, people used parsnips as a sugar substitute. Fascinating. 

Picking Parsnips in the Grocery Store 

"When you're shopping, look for parsnips that are firm to the touch and not spongy," says Farmer Lee. "Cracks and blemishes are not ideal but can be cut away. You’ll rarely find them with greens since they can irritate the skin," he adds.  

How To Store Parsnips 

When it comes to storing parsnips, Farmer Lee has some tips for that, too. "If you're going to use them pretty quickly, wrap the uncleaned roots in a plastic bag and refrigerate in the crisper drawer. The bag will help them retain humidity and stay fresh," he says.  

"If you want to store them a little longer, line a sealable container — ideally an opaque one (because it mimics root cellar conditions)— with a double layer of paper towels or a cotton cloth and arrange the uncleaned parsnips in a single layer. Then refrigerate."  

As long as they were grown in healthy soil, Farmer Lee says you don't have to peel them when you use them. Just give them a good scrub.   

How Should Parsnips Be Used?   

Farmer Lee says you can use them the way you would a carrot: including in stocks or in your mirepoix (or try them in one of the 100+ recipe options we have on our site that call for parsnips). “Just don't eat them raw like you would with a carrot—you won’t like it," he says. 

Farmer Lee also loves to use the "humble" vegetable in this parsnip tart recipe. "It’s just like a pear tart. Perfect for starting or ending a meal. Great to have out on the counter and sneak a slice or two throughout the day. It can be dressed up or down + you can make it for under $2," he says.  

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