The Difference Between Tubers, Tuberous Roots, and Bulbs

The vegetables that grow underground have many nutritional properties. Today's article will discuss the difference between tubers, tuberous roots, and bulbs in the kitchen and the garden.
The Difference Between Tubers, Tuberous Roots, and Bulbs

Last update: 10 October, 2022

Today’s article will explain the difference between tubers, tuberous roots, and bulbs.

You’ve probably eaten potatoes, onions, beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes at some point and you already know they all grow underground. However, are you aware of the many vegetables that grow this way? Do you know they’re packed with nutrients?

Tubers, tuberous roots, and bulbs grow underground and produce delicious nutritious foods. However, there are several differences in their structure and cultivation. For one, they’re all bulbous plants.

The main difference between them is how the underground part develops to accumulate nutrients. It may be a stem in the case of tubers and bulbs or a root in tuberous roots.

In addition, the tuber, the tuberous root, and the bulb are usually different shapes. Bulbs are more round, tuberous roots elongated and tubers aren’t uniform. They’re quite similar, so people often confuse their classification.


These are the thick stems of certain plants and their function is to accumulate nutrients, water, and energy for the plant. An article from Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in Bolivia says that the place of tuber domestication was the Central Andes.

This might be why they’re so popular in countries such as Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia. Nevertheless, many of them are now spread throughout the world. Potatoes, for example.

Underground veggies are usually rich in complex carbohydrates, water, and fiber. They don’t contain cholesterol and you must cook them to properly digest them.

Likewise, their contribution of minerals such as potassium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C is outstanding. Their main characteristic is versatility, which allows using them in all sorts of dishes either boiled, mashed, fried, roasted, and even as flour.

Examples of tubers in the garden and the kitchen

Tubers are highly nutritious foods that can be part of a balanced diet. In addition, they’re usually inexpensive and easy to find. There’s a great variety of them even though most of them are sort of unknown like Oxalis tuberosa and Ullucus tuberous.

  • Potatoes are popular worldwide and rank fourth in production after corn, rice, and wheat. According to the International Potato Center, there are more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes, with different shades, sizes, and flavors. It’s quite versatile and great in many recipes. In addition, one can grow it under different conditions.
  • A turnip is a pink tuber that’s similar to an apple. It’s popular in Europe and the leaves are also edible. In addition, it’s rich in potassium, fiber, and vitamin C.
  • A radish is a vegetable of the cruciferous family and native to China but adapts well to different climates and is also cold resistant. It ripens quickly and is easy to grow in home gardens. Also, it has medicinal properties.

Find out about The Benefits of Carrots

A bowl of radishes.
Radishes contain phytonutrients with proven health benefit, so nutritionists recommend their intake.

Tuberous roots

These are thick roots that form an organ for storing nutrients.

They’re usually native to tropical regions. However, they’re now popular all over the world due to their delicious taste and ease of growth.

Examples of tuberous roots in the garden and kitchen

Tuberous roots are the most common type of underground vegetable. They grow among other thinner roots that help them acquire water and nutrients.

In addition, they can survive a long time underground, even if the outer part of the plant deteriorates.

The most common tuberous roots:

  • Cassava or manioc is an important source of carbohydrates for many people, especially in Africa, America, and Asia. Furthermore, it’s native to tropical climates. Also, its shell is brown and the interior white as they contain a lot of starch. The two most popular varieties are sweet and bitter yucca.
  • Yams are the most popular root in the world after cassava. People usually consume it in Asian, African, and South American countries. It usually grows in tropical areas and has brown skin. People eat the white pulp and the vegetable is rich in starch. One can preserve them for up to six months.
  • Carrots are popular vegetables that belong to the classification of tuberous roots high in beta-carotene — good for visual and skin health. The most common are orange but there are also purple, red, and yellow varieties. Moreover, they’re easy to grow in home gardens and take about three months to harvest.
  • Sweet potatoes are native to South America. There are different varieties that range between white, orange, red, purple, and yellow. Their flavor is slightly sweet, hence the name. They have a high content of vitamin C, starch, vitamin A and potassium, thus providing them with many nutritional properties. Lastly, you can also eat their sprouts.
  • Arracacha, also known as Creole celery or white carrot, is a root with a slightly sweet flavor. It’s white or yellow and contains starch. Also, it’s popular in South America and, due to its high energy content, highly nutritious. This is why nutritionists don’t recommend it for overweight people.
  • Beets are highly nutritious and popular. They come in different colors but the best-known one has an intense red color. Their flavor is earthy and sweet due to their high sugar content. In fact, the sugar industry uses them to manufacture this substance.


A bulb is a thick stem of the plant that grows underground and functions as a nutrient storage organ.

They’re usually round or oval, and pointy at the top. Most bulbs have layers that protect them.

Examples of bulbs in the garden and kitchen

The main characteristic of bulbs is they’ll stay fresh for long periods of time. Medicine has been exploring their many properties for a while, especially those of garlic and onions.

  • The onion is a basic bulb in world cuisine that adds flavor to different recipes. You can eat them cooked or raw. In addition, they’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The best thing is they’re easy to grow in small gardens.
  • Garlic is often used for seasoning. The bulb is known as a head and contains many edible cloves. Its main characteristic is a strong odor, caused by its sulfur content.
  • Fennel has medicinal properties people have been taking advantage of for a long time. All parts serve a function in traditional medicine.
A head of garlic.
Garlic can help with cardiovascular prevention due to its anticoagulant capacity.

Check out these Four Remedies with Potato Peels You Must Try

Tubers, tuberous roots, bulbs … and rhizomes!

Unlike the tuber, the tuberous root, and the bulb, the rhizome has a structure that grows horizontally under the ground, which also accumulates nutrients. In contrast, tubers, tuberous roots, and bulbs grow vertically.

Rhizomes grow sideways and unfold several buds on which roots grow downwards and sprout with shoots upwards. Thus, they quickly multiply.

Some examples

  • Turmeric is native to India and the main ingredient of curry. Its main characteristic is the yellow color, which people use as a food coloring. You grind and dry the rhizome to powder it. It has several medicinal properties.
  • Ginger is valued for its pleasant aroma and spicy flavor and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Tubers, tuberous roots, and bulbs also have ornamental applications

Now that you know the difference between rhizomes, tubers, tuberous roots, and bulbs and their uses in the kitchen and the garden, you should know that some of them are also ornamental. The best-known ones are tulips, dahlias, lilies, daffodils, lilies, and gladiolus.

So what are you waiting for? Add them to your diet and garden today!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.