Root Vegetables and Tubers: A Brief History
Before the widespread domestication of plants, our earliest ancestors foraged for wild root crops, like carrot and beets. Later cultivated, these underground riches included nutrient-dense root vegetables and tubers with limitless culinary uses. Now a common food staple, these nourishing veggies became fundamental ingredients of regional cuisine across the globe.
What’s the Difference Between Root Vegetables and Tubers?
From a culinary perspective it’s a moot point, but from a botanical perspective:
Both root vegetable and tubers are geophytes, a botanical classification for plants with their growing point beneath the soil. All tubers fall under the root vegetable umbrella, but not all root vegetables are tubers.
- Root vegetables are aptly named because the meat of the crop is the root of the plant, growing downwards and absorbing moisture and nutrients from the soil. Above ground you’ve got the green stuff, below ground, you’ve got the root.
- Tubers, however, form at the base of the root. Tubers store energy and support new stem growth. When it comes to tubers, you got the green stuff above ground, and then below ground you have a system of hairy like roots…and from that the tubers will grow. You can get several tubers from one above-ground plant, while root crops will have one root vegetable from each plant.
Culinary uses, again, almost interchangeable. They’re great in soups, they’re great roasted, they’re great sautéed, or pureed.
Root Vegetable Tips
Root vegetables have year-round availability, with most varieties reaching peak season between September-January. Inherently nutrient-rich, root vegetables are low in calories, fat, and sodium. Many varieties are also a good source of Vitamin C and fiber.
When selecting root vegetables and tubers, take the opposite approach as you would with a nice piece of fruit. With fruit, you want a little give, which is not the case with root vegetables and tubers. Choose vegetables that have kept their rigidity, they should be firm upon delivery. Avoid those with soft spots, scars, or cracks in the outer layer. Store both root vegetables and tubers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Common Varieties of Root Vegetable and Tubers
Watch Francy describe Root Vegetables and Tubers
Root vegetables and tubers are available year round with different peak seasons. They are most known as winter produce due to their hardy nature and long shelf life.
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Additional content provided by Francy Deskin, the Specialties Coordinator for FreshPoint South Florida. She has spent 20+ years in kitchens, including as an Executive Chef, and she loves all things food. Follow FreshPoint South Florida on Facebook and Instagram.