Gulrófa (rutabaga) is a root originated from a cross between turnip and cabbage and it is widespread in Northern Europe and Russia. Rutabagas have purple tops and yellow bodies. Their flesh possesses a yellow colour with a hint of sweetness.
The Icelandic name refers to the yellow colour of the root (gulur=yellow). The term “rófa” is thought to stem from the latin word rapum but it is also related to the Danish word “roe”. Elsewhere it is called Swedish turnip or yellow turnip. That is because the first known printed reference on this plant is dated onto 1620, and it comes from a Swiss botanist who noted that the plant was growing wild in the Swedish environment. According to the University of Iceland Institute of Lexicography, the first reference to the plant is in a journal (Íslendingur – Icelander) published in 1863. Here an extract: “The subterranean kohlrabi, which, as the public knows is also called cabbage turnip or rutabaga, bears a larger fruit than the aboveground kohlrabi, and it is also more resistant to cold whereas it is untainted after 5 degrees of frost, therefore Icelanders have grown fond of it”.
The rutabaga has an important culinary heritage in Iceland. It is an essential ingredient in the traditional Icelandic lamb soup, as well as in split pea soup with salted lamb, a dish that most Icelanders enjoy annually on Shrove Tuesday, or sprengidagur. The rutabaga is rich in Vitamin C and is often called ‘The orange of the North’. The vegetable is most often directly seeded in springtime, April or May, but sometimes the seeds are sprouted in greenhouses and transplanted into the ground in summertime. Icelandic varieties of rutabaga include Ragnarsrófa and Kálfafellsrófa, and the ultimate cultivar Sandvíkurrófa, which among the Norwegian “Vige” is the most commonly cultivated variety of rutabaga in Iceland.
The roots have been prepared for human consumption in a variety of ways throughout the past two centuries and the leaves can be eaten as a vegetable. Estimated consumption of rutabaga per capita in Iceland is 2.4 Kg per year. However, nearly one third of the rutabaga production goes to waste due to weight standards. The potentials of the rutabaga were explored in a research on local food production conducted in 2016 at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. With the motivation of increasing value within local vegetable farming and reducing food waste, the rutabaga was found to possess excellent qualities for the production of syrup and vodka. The rutabaga is a pertinent vegetable for farming in the Icelandic climate, it is an important feature of the country’s culinary heritage, and carries opportunities for sustainable and local food production. Again, due to the high content in vitamin C, rutabaga is crucial in providing the local population with enough micronutrients for their wellness.
Image: Sölufélag Garðyrkjumanna