What are neeps? All you need to know about the traditional Burns Night supper dish

Neeps and tatties and haggis, Burns Night
(Image credit: Getty)

When it comes to celebrating traditions across the UK there are some people who are wondering what are neeps? as many come together to celebrate Burns Night (opens in new tab) with a special Burns supper.

To celebrate the life and works of poet Robert Burns, the author of many a Scots poem, a supper is normally held on or near the poet's birthday which falls on 25th January, known as Burns Night. However, in principle, celebrations can be held at any other time of the year.

Robert Burns was a poet who was also a source of inspiration to the founders of Liberalism and Socialism, he penned more than 550 verses and songs before he died at 37.

So as many come together to mark his achievements, we have all you need to know about neeps...

What are neeps?

A neep is a root vegetable that is globe-shaped - about the size of your head - and of a purple hue. Neeps are also known by the alternative name rutabaga or swede as it is a form of Brassica napus. Other names include Swedish turnip or turnip – however, elsewhere the name "turnip" usually refers to the related white turnip.

The species Brassica napus originated as a hybrid between the cabbage and the turnip.

They are usually eaten when they're ‘chappit’, meaning mashed, so if you see them on a plate, they're usually the yellowy-orange vegetable found next to the tatties and are traditionally served with pepper and nutmeg. Sheep like them too.

What are Scottish neeps?

Scottish neeps are large purple root vegetables.

In Scotland neeps are often fed to sheep when grass is scarce in winter. Sometimes, the sheep will be let into a field of neeps, still in the ground, and simply chomp their way through them.

Scotland-based neep-processing company Drysdales, down in the Borders are reported to grow one-third of all neeps/ swedes eaten in the UK.

Are neeps and swede the same?

Many people have wondered are neeps and swede the same? And the answer is yes except in the north of England and Scotland, the larger, yellow variety may be called "yellow turnip" or "neep", while the smaller white variety is called "swede" or "white turnip".

The main differences between the two are that a turnip when cooked has a more white fleshy appearance, whereas a neep or swede, when cooked, is a more yellow/orange colour.

Neeps and swede

  • Often very much bigger than turnips, with a longer shape.
  • Yellow or orange flesh, depending on cooking time.  The longer swedes are cooked, the darker colour the flesh achieves.
  • Are very hands-off, and low maintenance to grow.
  • Do very well in frosty weather.  The swede is said to be best after the first winter frost.
  • Came from Sweden originally, where to grow, vegetables need to survive heavy winters.
  • High yield per swede, made them a favourite for Scottish grannies.
  • Sweeter in flavour than a turnip, to which they are indeed, related.

Swede or neep

Vegetables growing in the garden
(Image credit: Getty)

White turnip

  • Smaller and more round than swedes,
  • White flesh when cutting into the turnip.
  • Fast-growing, but are very small.  Can be grown in around six to eight weeks.
  • Need more fertiliser, and are higher maintenance to grow than swedes.
  • Do not do well with frosty weather and must be harvested before the first heavy frost, which can be fairly early, and unpredictable in Scotland.

Turnip

What are neeps and tatties?

Neeps and tatties are the Scottish dish (opens in new tab) of mashed swede and mashed potatoes. They are traditionally eaten as side dishes to haggis on Burns Night supper - an occasion marked by people across Scotland, the UK and around the world.

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Neeps and tatties recipes

Neeps and tatties recipes traditionally accompany haggis (opens in new tab) as a Burns night supper - simply peel a neep (or part of it), chop small then boil till tender.

Take care when trying to chop the neep as the purple skin is very tough so it won't peel as easily as an apple and will instead have to be wrestled, with the knife blade slicing about in all directions.

When preparing the rooty vegetable many will add salt and white pepper but remember not to overdo seasoning as the haggis will probably be peppery too. But if you've never done it before, here's how to cook haggis (opens in new tab) or vegetarian haggis (opens in new tab).

You can watch a quick video on how to make haggis, neeps and tatties dish below...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDyTFllY9iI

Some people love to add a dash of nutmeg and when they are tender, simply drain and mash, just like you’d mash potatoes.