Vegetables 101: What Are Root Vegetables?

What Are Root Vegetables? Another Vegetables 101 from A Veggie Venture
graphic button small size size 10 So many vegetables, so many that are unfamiliar! This is the latest in an occasional series of posts, quick, easy and practical information about out-of-the-ordinary vegetables or familiar-but-ill-defined vegetable terms. Recipe suggestions included!

Today's subject? The staple vegetables of winter, the root vegetables. If you've ever wondered what "root vegetables" are or "which vegetables are root vegetables" – read on!

HOW TO PRONOUNCE ROOT? Haha, this is a "you say tomato, I say tomahto" answer. I say [ROOT] – a pronunciation that rhymes with boot, toot, loot and cranky old coot and what-a-hoot this is!

But others say something more akin to [RUUT] – rhyming with football and fireplace soot. The English language is so complicated! How do you pronounce the word "root"? Maybe we can discern some regional variations!

MORE FOR WORD DANCERS I love this introduction to "odd roots" from Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka, a real tome but one I refer to often. She writes,

"The word 'root' is odd, with many meanings and associations – good and bad, and some times the opposite of each other. If an animal roots around looking for food, it is a pig. Yet if one roots, it can be that one is establishing permanency in a community. If one is rootless, a settled location or function in life is missing. Words are roots in languages. People who live on roots are metaphorically poor and deprived. However, it is time to root for roots. They are on the food team." ~ Barbara Kafka, Vegetable Love

WHAT ARE ROOT VEGETABLES? There are two definitions of root vegetables. At A Veggie Venture, we are more cooks than botanists so let's start with the culinary definition of root vegetables.

THE CULINARY DEFINITION For good cooks and good eaters, a root vegetable is the underground, edible portion of a plant. For those who don't have gardens, it's not that obvious, we never see the dirt, do we?! So think potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes, those are common root vegetables.

THE BOTANICAL DEFINITION Botanists make distinctions between "true roots" and "tuberous roots" and other non-roots that grow below ground such as "tubers" and "rhizomes" and "corms" (yes, that's corm, with an m) and "bulbs". (All of which somehow makes me recall my childhood comic perception of the "absurdity" of Ever eat a pine tree? Sorry, I digress.)

So let's dig – ahem – a little into the dirt, shall we? The root is one of six "organs" in a plant. (All six? The root, the stem, the leaves, the flowers, the fruits and the seeds.) Plants anchor themselves into the ground with their roots, drawing moisture and nutrients through the roots into the above-ground stems and leaves. Many of these roots are inedible. In contrast, "root vegetables" are the roots of certain plants that swell up to form an edible root.


I'm limiting this list to root vegetables commonly found in grocery stores.
We're cooks, right? Click a link for recipes!

TRUE ROOTS (tuberous roots): Sweet Potatoes, some true Yams

TRUE ROOTS (taproots): Carrots, Daikon, Jicama, Parsley Root, Parsnips

TRUE ROOTS (taproots) *or* LOWER STEMS (not true roots)*: Beets, Celeriac, Radishes, Rutabagas, Turnips

CORMS (not true roots):

RHIZOMES (not true roots): Ginger

TUBERS (not true roots): Potatoes, Sunchokes, many true Yams

BULBS (not true roots): Garlic, Onions, Shallots

LESSER-KNOWN ROOT VEGETABLES: Burdock, Horseradish, Salsify, Scorzonera, Taro (check this Wikipedia list for more less-common root vegetables)

* My information sources conflict. One categorizes the vegetables above that are marked with *astericks* into the "taproot" category; another categorizes them into the "lower stem" category. When I think about how these come out of the ground, I lean toward "lower stem" versus "taproot". But then again? I'm not a botanist or even, really, a gardener. Input welcome, please do chime in!

NOT ROOT VEGETABLES Kohlrabi and other vegetables whose edible portion forms above ground

STORING ROOT VEGETABLES Who else lives (or has lived) in a home with a "root cellar"? It's a cool place, usually in basement or dug into a hill where the temperature stays cool but above freezing, traditionally used to store (you see them coming, right?) root vegetables during the long winter. A root cellar is an old-fashioned concept but deserves a place in our modern lives! (Wouldn't it be great to have a place to store nuts, flours, cornmeal and other perishable foods? I use my fridge now but some times it's so full of "stuff to store" that there's hardly room for the week's groceries!) But root vegetables will keep for some weeks and even months stored in a cool place like a root cellar. With no root cellar, I keep potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions in a cool-ish-room-temperature dark cupboard in the kitchen but place all the other root vegetables in the refrigerator to stay fresh.

HOW TO COOK ROOT VEGETABLES Root vegetables are perfect for roasting, be sure to check out How to Roast Vegetables, people love this long list of tips and techniques! But if you are going to cook root vegetables in water, be sure to drop the vegetables into cold, not boiling, water. Why? The vegetables will stay firmer and won't turn to mush! For specific recipes for specific root vegetables, start here in the Alphabet of Vegetables.

SOURCES Personal knowledge and curiosity, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Vegetable Love and Wikipedia.



~ What Is a Tomatillo? ~
~ What Are Bitter Greens? ~
~ Vegetables 101: What Is Jicama? ~
~ more Special (Useful & Informative) Stuff ~
from A Veggie Venture

A Veggie Venture is home of 'veggie evangelist' and root vegetable lover Alanna Kellogg and the
famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.
© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2015
Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Root like toot. Born in PA (parents from OH).
    Hee. "May parts are edible" has been one of my catch-phrases for many years.

  2. Root like foot. Seattle born and raised by southern California parents. Although I did start the article with a "toot" pronunciation in my head. Apparently I'm confused.

  3. I love my copy of Vegetable Love. It saved me when I began getting my CSA share several years ago. It's still my reference when I need to know what's possible with my veggies.

  4. Grew up in Northeast Missouri, it's root like toot as cabledsheep said. Very interesting, I've never heard the other pronunciation


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna