What Are Swedes and Why Should We Be Eating Them?


This is a swede. It’s a vegetable and the source of endless jokes about being a person from Sweden. Just look at the title of this article. Did you think this was a call to eat our Swedish cousins?

But wait. Is this actually a turnip? If it is there will be fewer jokes about it being a person from Sweden.

There has always, it seems, been lots of confusion as to what’s a swede and what’s a turnip and it seems that in plenty of parts of the UK people substitute ‘turnip’ for ‘swede’.

So let’s clear it up once and for all.

But this image does actually show a swede. It has purplish skin and yellow flesh and you’re a lot more likely to have eaten it in the UK than a turnip (which has a white skin, white flesh and is much loved in France and Northern Italy).

You can find swede in dishes up and down the country: in Cornwall it’s one of the constituent ingredients in a traditional pasty; in Scotland it accompanies haggis and tatties; and across the nation it can be found mashed and served with roast dinners. Swede has a mild, slightly sweet flavour and cooked correctly it’s delicious (unlike turnip). It’s also very good for you.

Swede contains a wide range of vitamins and nutrients. It’s particularly high in vitamin A and vitamin C as well as being a good source of potassium, calcium and fibre. Add to this the fact that boiled it has only 11 calories per 100 grams; it’s a very healthy vegetable. (And did we mention that it’s delicious?)

But finally, and most importantly, why are they called swedes? Why do they have a name that allows us to make so many jokes about them being a person from Sweden? Well it’s because they do originate from Sweden (although they’re not a person). The Swedes bred swedes from a combination of turnips and kale. So next time someone asks you “What have the Swedes ever done for us?” you know how to answer: “Swedes.”