III: Turnip

How turnips started the Industrial Revolution.

III: Turnip
Turnips with greens still on. Photo by coco tafoya / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is tridi, the 23rd of Vendémiaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate le navet, the root vegetable that grows its own spice.

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If you really, really hate turnips and their relatives, you might be a supertaster. People are born with differing amounts of taste buds. Those in the upper 25% are considered supertasters with an abundance of sensitivity to bitter flavors, making turnips and beer and even chocolate taste awful. (There's a corresponding non-taster group in the bottom 25% who presumably explain why Heineken still exists.) Since you lose taste buds as you age, your tolerance for bitter foods tends to increase, in case you dare to visit any of the villainous vegetables of your youth.

Turnips suck. That's been the prevailing attitude of humanity forever. Grown mainly as an animal food or an emergency potato substitute, turnips have the worst reputation of any cruciform vegetable – and that's a group that includes Brussels sprouts and radishes!

Not spicy enough, too earthy, too sulfurous, and sweet in a somehow off-putting way, turnips were the go-to ammunition for unhappy Roman citizens to throw at politicians, and Charles Dickens' favorite slang for "idiot." For fun, I searched on the phrase "why don't people eat turnips" and the number one answer was "because they don't like them," then "why don't people like turnips," which was answered by "because they don't eat them" – a perfect tautology of taste.

This is the point in the newsletter where you might expect me to swoop in with a "but" and try to rescue turnips by pointing out how to prepare them in a delicious way or harvest them for ideal taste or use them in some medicinal way. But nope. Turnips suck.

Even if they did single-handedly enable the Industrial Revolution.