Root vegetables may not be the most glorious food item around, but they have been the poor man’s primary energy source for a very long time. From potatoes to Fennel to Onions and Ginger, root vegetables have traditionally played a vital role in history due to their unique nutritional and medicinal value.
Root vegetables are broadly classified into different categories such as Taproots, Tubers, Tuberous roots, corms, rhizomes and root-like vegetables, which are not true roots. All the categories of vegetables have one defining characteristic in common: whether complete plants in themselves or parts of plants, they all grow underground.
In a world obsessed with meat and meat dishes, root vegetables have managed to maintain their own in a sea of umami, with potatoes being the obvious rock star of the group. Fried, mashed, boiled, roasted, grilled or sautéed, potatoes have graced every dinner table from the stone tables of Inca Indians to our modern-day glass tabletops.
First cultivated in Peru around 8,000 to 5,000 years ago, they were brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors who, quite frankly, we’re absolutely smitten by this humble root vegetable. Some other vegetables that also stand out are onions and ginger, which have even been mentioned in religious texts like the Bible and the Holy Quran.
The struggle for a place at the table (pun intended) has become marginally easier in the twenty-first century, though, for our simple root vegetables. With the entire world now diving into the fad of health-conscious clean eating, vegetables of all kinds are now in the limelight, and root vegetables have also emerged from underground to bask in the glow.
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While we are all familiar with and endeared by the wholesome orange vegetable, the original wild carrot was believed to be white or ivory in color. However, the closest ancestor to our modern-day carrot is believed to have originated in Central Asia, more specifically current day Afghanistan, where it was used both as food and as medicine. Belonging to the Umbelliferae/Apiaceae family, including celery and parsley, carrots are of two basic types: the fast dwindling Asiatic and the ever-popular Western types.
One serving of carrots offers up to 6 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber. But their real strength is the wealth of vitamins and antioxidants they pack, with a single serving meeting more than half of our daily requirement of vitamin A. Other notable components include Vitamin K, Vitamin C, calcium, iron and sodium. These unique properties make carrots vitals for our eyes, heart and bones. They also strengthen our immune system and help fight against cancer.
Nowadays, carrots are a part of almost all popular fad diets, including keto, paleo, vegan and many more. They can be consumed in several ways, from fresh crunchy carrots paired with dips to steamed, grilled or sautéed and served as sides. They also make up an important part of many stews, gravies, stir-fries and desserts like carrot cake.
Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) are also a member of the flowering plant family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae, the pasty biennial overshadowed by its more charming cousin, the carrot. Known for its rich, sweet flavor, wild parsnips were native to Eurasia, with some texts suggesting that the Roman Emperor Tiberius was so fond of these sugary roots that he had them sent over all the way from Germany. The first parsnip was illustrated in the 1500s in Germany and was a popular vegetable in the 1550s, introduced to the English world. Apart from being a rich carbohydrate source in itself, it was also utilized as a source of sugar, getting even sweeter after winter frosts.
One serving of this pale-skinned, able-bodied vegetable boasts 12 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of sugar and 3 grams of fiber with small amounts of sodium and protein. However, the best offering is the Vitamin C it has, with one cup fulfilling half our daily vitamin C requirement. It also has niacin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, iron and calcium. These precious nutrients make parsnips a champion for heart, kidney, immune and gut health.
Popular for their intense sweet, spicy flavor, parsnips are a popular component of soups, salads, pies, stews, casseroles, cakes and other desserts.
While parsnips and carrots are both members of the same family, there are some marked differences, and it’s obvious who is the more popular guest at family gatherings (carrots!).
The earliest difference is the location of origin: the wild carrot was native to Central Asia, while parsnips have a European origin.
Although carrots started as white/yellowish vegetables, they are now slender, orange (thanks to the Duke of Orange), and parsnips with their white, stringy bodies are quite different, and it’s easy to tell the two apart.
Based on nutritional data, parsnips and carrots are strikingly similar in carbohydrate, sugar and fiber content. Carrots, however, have the edge regarding Vit A levels; meanwhile, parsnips are a rich source of Vit C, Vit E, folate and a total number of calories.
The next most important aspect is the taste: carrots have a sweeter, milder taste than parsnips. Though intensely sweet (especially if touched by the winter frosts), Parsnips have a spicy edge to them, a bit like a carrot dipped in cinnamon. This balance of flavor makes carrots and parsnips exclusively unique to a sophisticated palate. And this difference in flavor also translates into the culinary world, with different recipes created for carrots and parsnips.
While parsnips enjoy a wide audience, especially in the European and American region, it’s no secret that carrot is the more likable cousin, being widely consumed in all continents of the world. This is partly because a few centuries ago, parsnips were outshined by potatoes as THE starchy staple of the commoner’s diet.
So What’s the Difference Between Parsnip and Carrot?
- Parsnips are more popular in Europe and the Americas, while carrots enjoy worldwide renown.
- Parsnips are a rich source of Vit C, Vit E and folate, while carrots are an excellent source of Vit A.
- Carrots generally have a sweet, mild taste, but parsnips boast a richer flavor with a spicy undercurrent.
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