Cultivated since the birth of agriculture, parsnips have been a primary food from ancient Rome to the early days of colonial America. The large, tapering white root is commonly mistaken for carrots or even daikon radish, but its distinctive sweetness made it useful not only as a root vegetable but also as a sweetener before sugar was widely available.
Before the potato was introduced from the Americas, parsnips were the root vegetable of choice for European kitchens. The Roman emperor Tiberius liked parsnips so much that he accepted them as tribute from his subjects. Brought to North America by French and English colonists, parsnips were quickly adopted by the surrounding indigenous nations.
Parsnips are a popular substitute for potatoes, thanks to being lower in simple carbohydrates. Their high fiber content makes them excellent for digestive health as well as regulating blood sugar. Parsnips are also high in Vitamin C, folate, and manganese. For all these reasons, parsnips have historically been fed to the elderly, the weak, and those convalescing from sickness.
Be careful when handling greens, as they can cause a reaction to sensitive skin. Parsnips wrapped in a towel or perforated bag and stored in the refrigerator will keep for about 3-4 weeks. Do not wash or peel until just before cooking.
While the dense flesh of parsnip can take quite a long time to cook, they provide a rich, caramelly flavor when roasted, baked, or fried. In many English-speaking cultures, parsnips are a mainstay of winter holiday feasts. Popular modern methods of cooking parsnips include adding them to mashed potatoes or frying thin slices into chips.
Peel and quarter parsnips, then drop into a pot of barely simmering coconut milk spiced with fresh ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and/or curry powder. Poach until parsnips are almost tender, then remove and add to a pan and sauté with butter and salt. When parsnips are caramelized, add a splash of coconut milk from the poaching liquid, and reduce it until the milk is thickened into a glaze.
While most people enjoy the faint aroma of raw parsnips, some people may develop an allergic-like reaction to it. There are no known toxins in domesticated parsnips, and cooking eliminates any negative effects from the smell. If you find the smell of parsnips unpleasant, keep them tightly wrapped until ready to cook.