Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success

Winter root vegetables are packed with vitamins and full of flavor, but no one would accuse them of being attractive. Many of these roots give stews, soups and casseroles extra flavor. Some of them are tasty raw and are great additions to salads, or can be used as garnishes. Their secret? Spending time underground can build unique flavor and nutrition.

Key Takeaways

  • Root vegetables are some of the healthiest produce available, as the time spent in the ground increases their nutritional content.
  • Directions for purchase, preparation and storage for each root, as well as nutrition information, can be made available to customers.
  • When displaying root vegetables, make sure that they don’t have soft spots.

The cold days of winter can get a little boring in the produce department.

“Most of the exciting produce is out of season during winter months, so produce managers must get creative to entice customers to purchase winter produce,” notes Blake Lee, director produce, bulk and juice procurement and merchandising at DLJ Produce, in Long Beach, Calif. “The key to selling produce at the store level is to create an atmosphere that encourages customers to buy. Most impulse purchases are based on how a display looks and makes someone feel.”

By tempting customers with new soup recipes and the smell of samples of that soup, departments can sell multiple vegetables, including these underground items.

The Root of the Matter

Root vegetables may not always be as showy as citrus or corn, but they are nutritious and versatile. These mostly odd-looking vegetables can add flavor to many dishes. According to Jeff Wingo, supervisor of produce operations at Town and Country Markets, based in Fredericktown, Mo., top-selling produce items during winter are cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions — “mostly items that would go into a stew or soup.”

That's true of many of the roots profiled below, from “Melissa's Great Book of Produce” by Cathy Thomas. Try spotlighting some with signage, recipes, and information providing nutrition and preparation. Shoppers are looking for something new and different in winter. These vegetables are capable of heating up your bottom line when it's cold outside.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success Celery Root

Celery Root, or Celeriac

Celery root might win an ugly produce contest with its lopsided shape and dappled skin. However, inside is white flesh that tastes like celery and parsley. The ugly root has an energizing, clean taste that is celery-like without the strings. Celery root has been used for hundreds of years in soups, stuffing, stews and salads.

The root is best if it feels heavy for its size. Soft spots should be avoided and small bulbs with fewer crevices are best. The root can be refrigerated at home in a plastic bag for seven to 10 days. Also known as celeriac or knob celery, this root vegetable is jam-packed with fiber and vitamins B6, C and K, as well as minerals such as phosphorus, potassium and manganese. Celery root is also low in fat and calories but high in antioxidants. Grated celery root can be eaten raw after peeling, added to a salad, or boiled, braised or blanched. When combined with potatoes, celery root helps create the “best” mashed potatoes, according to many.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success Celery Root Fennel


This root is sometimes labeled “anise” or “sweet anise,” and has feathery green tops like parsley so its identity is sometimes in question. Fennel has a green-tinged white bulb and celery-type stalks with dark-green leaves. The flavor is like anise or licorice. It can be eaten raw or blanched, giving it a cooked-asparagus texture.

Fennel is available in both mature sizes with 14- to 18-inch-long stalks and immature “baby” sizes with 5- to 8-inch stalks. Baby fennel is prized for its sweetness and strong anise aroma. When purchasing fennel, look for fragrant, firm bulbs without blemishes. Also, the green leaves at the top should be brightly colored. Customers can refrigerate fennel unwashed and dry in a plastic bag for up to five days. 

This root vegetable is called finocchio in Italian and fenouil in French. It's popular in Mediterranean dishes, eaten with fish in France and in pasta sauces in Italy. Eaten raw, it is also a digestive aid. Fennel is a significant source of vitamin C and potassium. Encourage customers to try cream of fennel soup with leeks, a potato-and-chicken broth for something different when the weather is cold.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success Celery Root Fennel gobo root

Gobo Root, or Burdock

Gobo root often accompanies sushi in Japanese restaurants as a bright-orange pickled tidbit. Its actual appearance is quite different. It's used as both a vegetable and a seasoning. The slender roots resemble long, brown carrots, 12 to 30 inches long. Gobo root’s appearance is woody, with rough brown skin and white, fibrous flesh. Both skin and flesh are edible. Burdock is usually cooked or pickled, and has a taste similar to artichokes. The flesh turns from white to gray when cooked.

When selecting burdock, choose vegetables no more than 18 inches long and 1 inch in diameter, with soil-covered roots. Wrap it in moist paper towels in a plastic bag to store. Prep involves scrubbing, peeling, cutting into smaller lengths, soaking in salted water, draining in cold water, and placing in cold water with lemon juice. Then slice or dice. Gobo root can be broiled, roasted or added to stew.

Gobo root is a significant source of vitamin B6 and potassium. Popular recipes include stir-fry and gobo-and-mushroom soup. The vegetable’s flavor is earthy-sweet.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success Celery Root Fennel jicama


Jicama is also known as the Mexican potato and as yam bean. The vegetable is a large bulbous root flattened on top and bottom. The tuber is white fleshed and covered in thick skin. Jicamas weigh anywhere from 8 ounces to 6 pounds. The flesh is juicy and comparable to an apple in texture, and the taste is barely sweet and a little nutty. 

When choosing jicama, small or medium sizes are usually the best. Store it whole in a cool location for several days, or refrigerate for up to three weeks. To prep, remove the skin, top and bottom. Cut into cubes, slices or sticks. Store the vegetable in plastic wrap. Jicama can be cooked but is usually eaten raw. It can serve as a substitute for water chestnuts in Asian dishes. Jicama can also go on the grill or be baked like French fries. Use in salsas, as a soup topper or in salads. The tuber is an excellent source of vitamin C and is low in carbs. 

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success Celery Root parsley root

Parsley Root

Once popular only in Europe, parsley root is now grown in the United States mostly for its roots instead of its leaves. It's also known as turnip-rooted parsley, rooted parsley and Hamburg parsley. While its roots resemble carrots, they are beige in color and often double-rooted. The flavor is like a combination between carrot and celery.

Parsley root combines well with potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions. The root vegetable is often used in soups and stews. The root can be braised, steamed, boiled, simmered or roasted. It can also be prepared alone, and the leaves used like parsley. When choosing parsley root, look for uniform roots with bright-green crisp leaves. Store roots unwashed in plastic for up to one week. To prepare, gently clean and remove the leaves. Parsley is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and a significant source of iron.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success daikon radishes

Daikon Radishes

Daikon radishes (also called Chinese or Asian radishes) are larger than the average red radish, sometimes 1 to 2 feet long and 3 to 5 inches in diameter. The skin is usually white but can also be black. However, the daikon is different from a black radish. The root is regarded as essential in many Asian dishes. While this radish looks a little like a carrot, its flavor is very different — a little sweet, juicy and a little spicy, with a peppery bite. Daikon is a versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw or pickled. The vegetable can be added to soups, stews or salads, or used as a garnish. Asian radishes can also be roasted and steamed.

Choose daikon radishes that are well formed, smooth, and hard, with no soft spots. Refrigerate them unwashed for up to 10 days in a plastic bag. Scrub them with a brush under running water, and then peel or grate. One cup of daikon radishes is a good source of vitamin C.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success salsify


Salsify is also called oyster plant or oyster vegetable for good reason. Most consumers say that the root vegetable has a subtle oyster-like flavor, but others think it tastes like artichokes or asparagus, with a slight coconut taste. It's advisable to use salsify sparingly for flavoring, no matter how it's prepared. 

The variety distributed in the United States looks like a muddy carrot, but the flesh is cream-colored under its skin. Salsify is about 1 to 2 feet long and 1 inch in diameter. Steaming salsify is preferred over boiling, since it breaks easily. To prepare, remove the skin and discard it. Wear rubber gloves to prevent discoloration of the hands. If boiling or roasting salsify, cut it into 1-inch slices. If not using it immediately, put it into water with lemon. Salsify can be simmered, boiled, roasted or fried, and pairs well with meat or game. One cup is a significant source of vitamins C and B6, riboflavin, and potassium.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success sunchoke

Sunflower Choke 

Sunflower choke is also called Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke, but it's neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke. This lumpy, brown-skinned vegetable can be mistaken for several other root vegetables, but sunflower choke is actually a variety of sunflower root. The sunflower choke’s inside is creamy-white flesh with a crispy texture. Its taste is nutty and sweet. Avoid soft sunflower chokes when selecting. Store it unwashed in plastic in the refrigerator for up to one week. Sunflower chokes may be peeled or cooked in their skins. If they're cooked whole, the skin can be removed before or after cooking, if desired.

This root vegetable can be eaten raw or cooked. In salads, sunflower choke should be thinly sliced. To cook the vegetable, blanch, bake, sauté or roast. One cup is a significant source of vitamin C, and a very good source of iron, thiamin, phosphorus and potassium. While sunflower choke is similar to a potato, the carbohydrate present is inulin rather than starch, making it a good source of fructose for diabetics.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success ginger root

Ginger Root

Instead of grabbing a jar of already prepared ginger off the supermarket shelf, many consumers prefer to use fresh ginger from the produce department in recipes. Ginger rhizomes are some of the stranger-looking items in produce, with knobs of all sizes protruding from dark-beige skin. Inside, the fiber-filled interior is pale yellow and slightly juicy. Ginger root is popular in Asian and Indian cooking. Young ginger has paler colors and a milder taste than mature ginger. When purchasing ginger, make sure the product is smooth and wrinkle-free, and feels firm. Store it at room temperature in a cool location for up to five days, or wrap it in a paper towel to refrigerate in an unsealed plastic bag for up to three to four weeks. Ginger can be frozen for up to two months.

Ginger skin is very thin, and the root is often used unpeeled. Cut it into matchsticks, mince it or grate it across the grain using a ginger grater. Eat ginger raw in cold sauces, salad dressing, marinades and beverages, or add it to soups, casseroles, stir-fries or baked goods. One cup of ginger is a significant source of potassium.

Winter Root Vegetables Equal Sales Success horseradish

Horseradish Root

Another root competing for an ugly award is horseradish. Its knotty, brown exterior hides a secret sharp, hot flavor inside in its white flesh. When it's cut, essential oils are released. Horseradish is one of the five bitter herbs of Passover. Its leaves are sometimes used in salads, but the root is most popular. Many consumers have only experienced horseradish from a jar. 

The root is usually peeled, crushed and grated into a sauce for fish or meat. Use it instead of wasabi with sushi, or mix it into mashed potatoes. Horseradish should be firm when purchased. Wrap it in slightly moist paper towels and put it in a plastic bag to refrigerate for up to 10 days. When preparing, wash and cut it into 3- to 4-inch lengths. Remove and discard the peel and any green patches under the skin. If there's a woody core inside a large horseradish, discard it. Grate or cut it into half-inch cubes for the food processor. One cup is an important source of vitamin C, folate and potassium. 

About the Author

D. Gail Fleenor

D. Gail Fleenor is a contributing editor at Progressive Grocer.

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