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As winter blankets the world in a frosty embrace, our plates often reflect the seasonal shift with heartier, comforting fare. While staples like potatoes, carrots, and squash claim the spotlight, there’s a treasure trove of underrated winter produce waiting to elevate your culinary experience and boost your nutritional intake. This January, add these culinary gems to your meal plan and infuse your winter menu with a burst of freshness and nutritional goodness that’s good for your immune system and your overall health.

Why eat winter produce? When you eat veggies and fruits that are in season, they’re also at their optimal ripeness and freshness. That means they aren’t just tastier, but they’re also more nutritious and better for the planet.

1. Persimmons

winter producePersimmons have a unique and distinctive flavor that can be described as sweet, rich, and honey-like. The texture can range from crisp and firm to soft and gooey, depending on the ripeness and variety. If you’ve never tried these unique fruits, act quick: They’re in season from October through January, making this the last month when you can get fresh, in-season persimmons.

Persimmons are a good source of essential nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E, and B-complex vitamins. They also contain minerals such as potassium, manganese, copper, and phosphorus. Overall, persimmons — which first rose to culinary prominence in ancient China — are loaded with antioxidants, including beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein. These antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases and supporting overall health.

Persimmons also contain compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, which may help alleviate inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with various health issues, including heart disease and certain types of cancer, making this a top choice among winter produce.

2. Kohlrabi

winter produceKohlrabi is a unique and nutritious vegetable that belongs to the cruciferous family, which includes cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. The veggie has a mild, slightly sweet flavor with a crisp and crunchy texture. The taste is often described as a cross between cabbage, broccoli stems, and a hint of apple or radish. The flesh is juicy and tender when fresh, making it a versatile addition to various dishes.

The bulbous part of the kohlrabi, which is the edible portion, can be eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw, it has a refreshing and mildly sweet taste, making it suitable for salads or as a crunchy snack. The texture is similar to that of a radish or jicama.

When cooked, kohlrabi maintains its sweetness but develops a softer texture. It can be steamed, roasted, sautéed, or included in soups and stews. Some people compare the cooked taste to that of a mild turnip or broccoli heart.

The leaves of kohlrabi are also edible and have a flavor reminiscent of collard greens or kale.

“Kohlrabi tastes like a peppery version of the insides of a broccoli stem,” explains the Food Network. “It has the sweetness of the broccoli with a bit of the peppery spice of turnips or radishes. If you want to emphasize its sweetness, try adding a pinch of sugar when you’re cooking kohlrabi.”

Kohlrabi contains antioxidants, including vitamin C and phytochemicals like glucosinolates. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals in the body, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases and supporting overall health. The high vitamin C content in kohlrabi also contributes to a healthy immune system. Vitamin C is crucial for the production of white blood cells and the proper functioning of the immune system.

Some studies suggest that the compounds found in cruciferous winter produce like kohlrabi may have anti-cancer properties. These compounds are believed to help detoxify the body and may offer protection against certain types of cancer.

3. Rapini

Rapini, also known as broccoli rabe or broccoli raab, is a green cruciferous vegetable that is not only delicious but also offers several health benefits.

The taste of rapini can be described as a combination of broccoli and mustard greens, with a slightly nutty undertone. The bitterness becomes milder when this winter produce is cooked, and other flavors, such as sweetness and nuttiness, may become more pronounced.

When preparing rapini, it’s common to blanch or sauté it to reduce the bitterness and enhance its overall flavor. It pairs well with garlic, olive oil, and lemon, which can complement and balance its taste. Rapini is a popular ingredient in Italian cuisine and is often used in pasta dishes, sautés, and as a side vegetable.

If you enjoy bold, slightly bitter flavors in your greens, rapini can be a delightful addition to your culinary repertoire. Its unique taste and nutritional benefits make it a popular choice for those looking to explore a variety of flavors in their meals.

Rapini is an excellent source of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Fiber is essential for digestive health, promoting regular bowel movements, and aiding in the prevention of constipation.

The fiber, potassium, and antioxidants in rapini may also contribute to heart health. Fiber helps regulate cholesterol levels, potassium supports blood pressure control, and antioxidants can protect the cardiovascular system from oxidative stress.

Finally, rapini is a good source of vitamin K and calcium, both of which are essential for bone health. Vitamin K plays a crucial role in bone metabolism, while calcium is a key component of bone structure.

4. Rutabaga

winter produceRutabaga has a fascinating history going back thousands of years. This root veggie has a mild and slightly sweet flavor, often described as a cross between a turnip and a cabbage, with a hint of earthiness. The taste is not as peppery as a turnip and is generally milder and sweeter.

When cooked, rutabaga’s sweetness becomes more pronounced, and its texture softens. It has a starchy quality that makes it a versatile ingredient in various dishes. Some liken the taste of cooked rutabaga to that of a potato but with a slightly sweeter and nuttier undertone.

Rutabagas can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. They are commonly roasted, mashed, boiled, or added to stews and soups. Additionally, rutabaga can be incorporated into casseroles, gratins, and other comfort food recipes.

Keep in mind that the flavor and texture of rutabaga may vary based on factors such as its size, freshness, and how it’s prepared. If you enjoy root vegetables and are looking for a nutrient-rich alternative with a subtly sweet taste, rutabaga could be a great addition to your culinary repertoire.

The fiber content in rutabaga, along with its low glycemic index, may contribute to better blood sugar control. This can be beneficial for individuals managing diabetes or those looking to maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Some compounds in rutabaga, including glucosinolates, have anti-inflammatory properties. Reduced inflammation is associated with various health benefits and may help prevent chronic diseases. For example, the glucosinolates in rutabaga, similar to other cruciferous winter produce, have been studied for their potential anti-cancer effects because compounds help the body detoxify and provide protection against certain types of cancer.

These four winter veggies may not be as ubiquitous on winter menus as squash and other more popular produce, but each has distinctive qualities (and amazing flavors) that you won’t want to miss this January.

References:

  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19149749/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5042374/
  • https://biology.missouri.edu/news/new-study-revises-origins-humble-rutabaga