What you see: A worm thing burrowing in your turnip
What it is: A maggot! Specifically, a root maggot.
Eat or toss: Cut around the maggot and its trails. The rest of the turnip is fine.
Talk about an uninvited dinner guest.
Root maggots are skilled at making themselves at home in places they’re not wanted. Like cabbage, broccoli, onions and this turnip, which I was chopping for a batch of soup when the maggot reared its icky head. And, by “head,” I’m being generous. The business end of a root maggot is really just a narrow point with two vicious little black hooks, the better to carve tunnels into the roots and bulbs of vegetables that people like to eat. The maggot feeds and feeds and feeds to get the nutrients it needs to ball up into a little capsule in the soil and emerge as another beloved creature: A fly.
As gross as the whole situation is, the turnip is still edible. And not just if you’re a maggot!
Cut around the maggot’s trails and tunnels
As the maggot chomps, it damages turnip cells, prompting them to brown, as you can see below (it's similar to how apples and other produce brown when their cell are damaged by our teeth or knives). The weakened cells are more vulnerable to microbes and are on the fast track to rotting. The risk of human pathogens settling into those areas isn't high, but also isn't negligible. So, you don’t want to eat the browned areas or, obviously, the maggot itself, but you can cut around them.
Don Schaffner, a microbiologist at Rutgers, said that given how strong plant cells are, he wouldn’t be concerned about any problematic bacteria migrating through to the still pristine portion of the turnip.
“if there is any risk from that worm, I imagine that risk would be mitigated by just cutting away the part where the worm was living,” he said. He noted that cooking would further reduce any risk.
Jeffrey Hahn, an extension entomologist at the University of Minnesota, agreed that cutting off the browned areas was the right approach.
“It’s more gross than anything else,” said Hahn, who's written guidelines for gardeners dealing with root maggots.
Ric Bessin. Extension entomologist. University of Kentucky.
Jeffrey Hahn. Extension entomologist. College of Food Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. University of Minnesota.
Don Schaffner. Microbiologist. Extension Specialist in Food Science and Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University.
Cabbage and Onion Maggots. University of Minnesota Extension.
Cabbage Maggot. Cornell Cooperative Extension - Suffolk County.
Root Maggots in Alaska Home Gardens. Cooperative Extension Service. University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Did you hear about the maggot buffet? Yeah, you have to tunnel your way in.