food

Produce explained: 7 essential root vegetables you need in your kitchen

Last Updated: May 27, 2021

Written by Felicia Koh

Known to many as ‘fruits of the earth’, root vegetables are edible bulbs, tuberous roots, and tubers of plants that are grown underground. Covered in soil and not considered the sexiest ingredients on your dining table, they absorb great amounts of nutrients from the soil, fortifying them to be some of the most nutritious and heartiest food you can get your hands on in the market (literally).

 An array of root vegetables

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Since these humble-looking ingredients are filled with amazing health benefits and great flavour, let us take a closer look into seven essential root vegetables we need in our kitchens that will make for a wonderful meal. 

1. Potatoes

Baskets of potatoes

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What it is: 

Probably the most well-known and used root vegetable, potatoes are extremely versatile and widely available with over 3,000 varieties cultivated around different parts of the world.

In general, potatoes are categorised into three main groups—starchy, waxy, and all-purpose—based on their amylose, amylopectin, and moisture content. Potatoes in the different categories not only have different texture and mouthfeel, but they are also often cooked differently to bring their characteristics to a dish.

What makes it unique:

With carbohydrate content ranging from 66% to 90% of its dry weight, potatoes are considered high in glycemic index, making them unsuitable for those with diabetes. As such, they have been given a bad rap by low-carb dieters as “a dieter’s nightmare”. Despite their reputation, potatoes are very easy-to-digest complex carbohydrates, with very little to no fat. In addition, they are also a good source of several vitamins and minerals, including potassium, folate, and Vitamins C and B6.

How it’s cooked:

A plate of roasted potatoes

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Whilst most of us enjoy our potatoes deep-fried in the form of french fries and hash browns, potatoes can also be prepared with other healthier methods such as roasting, steaming, and baking. Whilst steaming is a great way of preparing the potatoes in order to mash or puree them, roasting helps cultivate flavour and texture. With such a versatile ingredient, the choice is yours to experiment and play with! 

Price: From S$1.20 per kg

2. Carrots

A variety of different carrots

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What it is: 

First grown in Afghanistan around 900 AD, carrots are another popular root vegetable known for their bright orange colour. But do you know that early carrots were only found in shades of purple and yellow? 

Due to their natural sugar content, most carrots are slightly sweet in flavour thus making them a great option that can be eaten raw or cooked. However, depending on where it is grown, they can also carry a tinge of earthy bitterness. 

What makes it unique:

Unlike potatoes, carrots are known to many for their numerous health benefits and one such benefit is that they are good for your eyes. The red-orange pigments present in carrots are rich in beta-carotene—a compound that is converted into Vitamin A, an essential in ensuring healthy eyes and improved vision. Not only does beta-carotene protect your eyes from the sun, but it also lowers your chances of cataracts and other eye diseases.

Beta-carotene aside, carrots also contain two main types of antioxidants—carotenoids and anthocyanins. These antioxidants fight off harmful free radicals in our body, lowering the chance of cancer-related sickness. 

How it’s cooked:

Carrot Cake

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Due to their sweet nature, carrots can be used for both savoury and sweet dishes. Roasted and sauteed carrots make for the perfect side-kick to a delectable cut of steak. Otherwise, they can also be prepared in the form of a creamy carrot soup for a hearty meal eaten during a cold, rainy day or anytime when you are feeling unwell. 

For a sweet alternative, a slice of carrot cake topped with cream cheese also makes for the perfect afternoon tea especially when paired with a cup of earl grey or black coffee.

Price: From S$1.50 per kg

3. Radishes

What it is: 

While most Western countries recognise radishes by their round shape and red skin, many Asian countries relate these root vegetables to their elongated shape and snow-white colour. Indeed, although radishes come in all shapes and sizes, their almost spicy, peppery taste gives them their characteristic flavour and unique identity.

What makes it unique:

White daikon radishes

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Radishes are categorised into two main groups—spring or winter radishes—depending on their period of harvest. Since spring radishes have a shorter growing season, they are usually smaller in size. Winter radishes, on the other hand, have a longer growing season and are identified by their elongated shape. 

Cherry Belle radish is an example of spring radish while Japanese daikon is an example of a variety of winter radish. 

How it’s cooked:

A serving of avocado toast with radish

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Juicy, crunchy, and slightly spicier than winter radishes, spring radishes are mostly used in salads. Their subtle pungency makes them a great compliment to proteins such as chicken and fish. 

Since winter radishes are sweeter, they make for great ingredients especially during the preparation of stocks and soups. Alternatively, they can also be stewed to extract their natural sweetness into a dish. 

Price: From S$1.90 per kg

4. Beets

What it is: 

With their growing popularity as a superfood, beets are amongst the healthiest foods on the planet. Around since the ancient Greek era, beets were considered prized possessions as their leaves and stalks were often used for cooking and their roots as medicine. 

What makes it unique:

These root vegetables are full of beta-carotene and betalains, which are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. And like most other plant-based foods, they are also high in nutrients yet low in calories. Low in cholesterol and saturated fat, beets also have antioxidants that offer additional benefits, such as the reduced risk of cellular damage.

How it’s cooked:

ABC juice made using root vegetables

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Beets have an earthy, sweet flavour, and are best when roasted, steamed, or left raw and shredded. In Singapore, many also consume beets in the form of juices. ABC Juice is an example of a healthy beverage made using apples, beets, and carrots.

Price: From S$3.20 per kg

5. Yams

What it is: 

Often mistaken as another root vegetable—sweet potatoes, yams are highly nutritious root tubers that are lower in sugar content and are less starchy in texture. Most yams are cylindrical in shape with brown, rough, bark-like skin that is difficult to peel yet softens after heating. The flesh of yams can be white, yellow, purple, or pink depending on the maturity of the yam.

What makes it unique:

Known to be a satiating source of energy, yams used to be a popular produce due to their long shelf life which allows them to be a steady food source during times of poor harvest. Besides being particularly rich in potassium, manganese, copper, and Vitamin C, yams also contain a unique compound called diosgenin, which may enhance memory and brain function. 

How it’s cooked:

Picture of yam tart

As yams are starchier and not very sweet, their flavour can be easily altered by various cooking methods. To savour the natural taste of yams, steaming them makes for a great alternative. Otherwise, yams can also be utilised in desserts such as cakes and orh nee, a mouth-watering treat that is often sold in Teochew restaurants in Singapore. 

Price: From S$5.50 per kg

6. Ginger

Picture of a ginger

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What it is: 

Like beets, ginger is another powerhouse root vegetable known by many for its natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification properties. A flowering plant that originated in Southeast Asia, ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae family—closely related to turmeric, cardamom, and galangal—and is among the healthiest spices on the planet.

What makes it unique:

Ginger has a very long history of use in various forms of traditional and alternative medicine. The unique fragrance and flavour of ginger come from natural oil, gingerol, the main bioactive compound in ginger responsible for its medicinal properties resulting in its usage as a common folk treatment, especially for digestion and nausea. 

How it’s cooked:

With a sweet, spicy, yet creamy flavour, gingers can be used in a large variety of foods and drinks. It is most often used in ethnic food alongside milk and a variety of vegetables. Gingers are also frequently used as a fish marinade as it helps in removing the pungent fishiness in fish-based dishes.

Price: From S$2.25 per 200g

7. Water chestnuts

What it is: 

A prominent ingredient found mainly in tropical and semi-tropical regions like Asia, water chestnuts are not nuts but aquatic tuber vegetables that grow in marshes, ponds, paddy fields, and shallow lakes.

Although water chestnuts can easily be confused with water caltrops, they have different properties, taste, texture, and usage. Whilst water chestnuts have a rounded bulb-like shape, water caltrops are shaped like bats or buffalo heads and taste similar to yams or potatoes.

What makes it unique:

Water chestnuts contain several antioxidants that may reduce your risk of many chronic diseases and conditions. High amounts of potassium in water chestnuts also reduces the risk of stroke and high blood pressure, which are both linked to heart disease. In addition, people following a weight loss plan may benefit from water chestnuts’ low-calorie content since the vegetable is a high-volume food with low calorie that helps curb hunger. 

How it’s cooked:

Fruity, nutty, and delicately sweet, freshwater chestnuts have the flavours of apple and coconut alongside the juicy texture of Asian pears. They have a crisp, white flesh that can be enjoyed raw or cooked and are a common addition to Asian dishes such as stir-fries and curries.

Price: From S$3.90 per 500g

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