This is a completely revised, expanded and updated version of my original article on “Cabbage 101 – The Basics.” If you need information about cabbage, such as what it is, tips and ideas on using cabbage, what herbs, spices or other foods pair well with cabbage, nutrition facts and health benefits, how to select and store your cabbage, along with suggested links to recipes for cabbage, this article should help! All those topics and more are included below.
Cabbage 101 – The Basics (UPDATE)
Cabbage is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, so it is related to kale, broccoli, collards, mustard, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, and others. There are many types of cabbage, with four types commonly found in the United States. They are… (1) Green cabbage, which is what most Americans are familiar with. It is round with smooth, tightly packed leaves that wrap around each other. (2) Red or purple cabbage, resembling green cabbage, but with purple leaves instead of green. (3) Savoy cabbage, with curly leaves that are less densely packed than the usual round green or red/purple variety. There are different varieties of savoy cabbage, ranging in color from light green to dark green, and red to purple. This type of cabbage is excellent in stir-fries and wraps. (4) Napa or Chinese cabbage, that looks more like an elongated head of lettuce than the round, green cabbage we commonly buy. This type of cabbage is often used when making kimchi and stir-fries.
There are two general colors of cabbage: red or purple, and green. The green cabbages can range in color from very dark to very light green. The red cabbage (which is called red, but is actually more purple) can also range in shades from lighter to darker purple. Sometimes the very dark purple cabbages are called “black cabbage.”
Because there are so many types of cabbage, researchers have not been able to trace the exact origin and history of this vegetable. Many historians believe that cabbage originated in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It was believed to have started as wild cabbage in Europe, which is a distant ancestor to the common green cabbage we typically see in grocery stores. However, the original forms of cabbage, found over 2,000 years ago were likely to be non-head-forming and more closely resembling vegetables like kale or collards.
In 2014, the average adult ate about 7 pounds of cabbage a year. This places cabbage as being the tenth most popular vegetable in America, with about half of that being made into coleslaw. The production of sauerkraut accounts for another 12 percent of cabbage use.
Cabbage is widely grown across the United States, but most is produced in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Texas. The United States also imports a sizeable amount of cabbage from Mexico and Canada.
According to the Economic Research Service at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), cabbage is the second most economical vegetable in terms of price per edible cup. So, if you’re on a tight budget, buy more cabbage!
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Cabbage is an excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B6. It also supplies a lot of manganese, fiber, potassium, Vitamin B1, folate, copper, choline, phosphorus, Vitamin B2, magnesium, calcium, selenium, iron, pantothenic acid, and niacin. One cup of raw cabbage has a mere 22 calories, so feel free to eat all you want!
All types of cabbage are rich in phytonutrients with assorted health benefits stemming from their potent antioxidant activity. However, red cabbage tops the list with its anthocyanins that give the vegetable its purple color.
Antioxidant-Related Benefits. Cabbage of all types is very rich in Vitamin C, a well-known very important antioxidant in the body that stops harmful free radical molecules and also supports the immune system, among other functions in the body. Cabbage also contains other antioxidants, including a number of polyphenols that have strong antioxidant activity. These compounds have been the subject of many research studies exploring the health benefits of cabbage. These compounds contribute to the anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits of cabbage and other vegetables in the cruciferous family, helping in the detoxification process and in reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Purple cabbage is even richer in such phytonutrients that provide its rich color. The high level of anthocyanins found in purple cabbage provides even greater antioxidant protection against disease, so opt for purple cabbage whenever you can to get the greatest antioxidant benefits from cabbage.
Gastrointestinal Health Support. Research has long verified that cabbage is valuable in helping to heal stomach ulcers (also known as peptic ulcers). More recent studies have shown that cabbage is restorative to not only the stomach, but to the overall digestive tract. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds in cabbage help to regulate the population of Helicobacter pylori in the stomach. This bacterium, which normally lives in the stomach, is responsible for the development of stomach ulcers and cancer when their population increases beyond a certain point. Eating cabbage can help to keep H. pylori under control, thus lowering the risk of gastric ulcers and cancer.
Furthermore, cabbage is rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber. This benefits the gastrointestinal tract by providing bulk and moving contents forward, preventing constipation. It also helps to feed the important microbes that live in the colon, along with helping to keep blood cholesterol in check by removing bile from the body along with the feces. This forces the body to use more of its existing cholesterol to make more bile, thereby reducing blood cholesterol.
How to Select Cabbage
Choose a head of cabbage that is firm and heavy for its size. Look for leaves that look fresh, crisp, and tightly packed, with few blemishes or cracks. Severe damage to the outer leaves may indicate insect damage, decay, or infestation of some sort on the inside. There should be only a few outer leaves that are loosely attached to the stem.
With regard to nutrition, it is best to buy whole cabbage heads. Although precut and shredded cabbage is a great convenience, the vegetable tends to lose some of its Vitamin C once it has been cut. If you do opt to buy precut cabbage, it is advisable to wash it, even though it may have already been prewashed. Any bacteria within the package can multiply over time. Also, when buying pre-cut cabbage, it is important to check the “Best by” date and choose a package that has the farthest date outward to help ensure freshness.
How to Store Cabbage
Store whole unwashed heads of cabbage in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Red and green cabbage should keep this way for about 2 weeks. Savoy cabbage will keep for about 1 week.
Partial heads, or cut cabbage should be tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator. Try to use cut cabbage within a couple days to reap the best nutritional value from it.
How to Prepare Cabbage
Cabbage can be enjoyed raw in salads and slaws, or cooked in just about any way imaginable. It may also be stuffed and rolled, or pickled and fermented.
Wait to wash cabbage until you’re ready to use it. Cabbage leaves may be cut off at the base of the stem end if you want to use whole leaves. Otherwise, the whole head may be cut in half lengthwise from the stem end downward. Then the sections may be further cut into wedges. The wedges can be used as they are or further cut crosswise into thin strips or shredded. Be sure to remove the core from the wedges, since that would be tough and fibrous to eat.
Sometimes worms or insects can make their way inside a head of cabbage. If you notice any living creatures inside your cabbage as you’re preparing it, soak the cabbage in salt water or vinegar water for 15 to 20 minutes.
How to Preserve Cabbage
Freezing Cabbage. Cabbage may be frozen and used later in cooked dishes. Cabbage that has been frozen would not be suitable for raw dishes like coleslaw, because the texture will change after being frozen and thawed.
To freeze cabbage, wash the leaves and cut them into desired size pieces. Bring a pot of water to boil and place the prepared cabbage in the boiling water. Immediately set your timer for 1-1/2 minutes for small pieces, or 3 minutes for wedges. As soon as the timer is finished, transfer the cabbage to a bowl of cold water and allow it to cool for at least as long as it was in the hot water. Then drain it well and place it in freezer bags or containers. To prevent it from freezing in a big lump, you could first spread the blanched, chilled and drained cabbage in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined tray. Place the tray in the freezer until the cabbage is frozen. Then transfer it to freezer bags or a container. Label it with the current date and use it within one year for best quality.
Some people choose to freeze cabbage without blanching it first. This method does not stop the enzymes in cabbage from aging the vegetable while it is in the freezer. The quality will deteriorate quickly, so cabbage frozen this way should be used within 4 to 8 weeks at the most.
Dehydrating Cabbage. Fresh cabbage may also be dehydrated. Some resources say cabbage can be dehydrated without being blanched first. However, like freezing it without first blanching cabbage, this method does not stop enzymes that cause the vegetable to continue to age, nor does it kill any pathogens that may be on the food. Reliable sources emphasize that blanching cabbage before drying it is an important step.
To dehydrate cabbage, prepare it as you would for freezing, as detailed above (by blanching, chilling, then draining the cabbage pieces). After it has been drained well, spread it out in a single layer on a mesh dehydrator tray. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the temperature and approximate length of time needed to dry your cabbage. It is considered to be dry when the texture is brittle, dry looking, and shriveled.
Dehydrated cabbage can be eaten as a snack and is sometimes used by backpackers as a lightweight food to carry along the trail.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Cabbage
* If your grocery budget is short these days, buy a head of cabbage. They are one of the most frugal fresh foods available. A large head of cabbage can be used in a number of meals and in many different types of dishes.
* Add some shredded cabbage to your next green salad.
* Try a different slaw by combining shredded cabbage with chopped papaya, pineapple, red bell pepper, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Dress it with a combination of pineapple juice, a little lime juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt, if desired. For added savory flavor, add a little ground cumin. Leave out the oil and salt, if you prefer.
* Cabbage is a “forgiving” food that can easily be prepped in advance and will store well in a covered container in the refrigerator. Do if you prefer to prepare your fruits and veggies on the weekend so week-night meals are faster, include cabbage and it will keep well until you need it. Please note that cutting cabbage in advance will cause it to lose some of its Vitamin C content.
* If you shy away from cabbage because of the strong flavor and aroma when it’s cooking, try it again. Next time, cook it for as short a time as possible in as little liquid as possible. Prolonged cooking releases the strong sulfur odor and makes it mushy in texture. Cooking it briefly in the least amount of liquid possible will keep the sulfur compounds from being released and make the flavor more palatable.
* If you enjoy wraps, try using outer cabbage leaves in place of tortillas.
* When cooking red cabbage in water, add a little lemon juice or vinegar to help keep the color from leaching into the cooking water.
* For an oil-free way to sauté shredded cabbage, heat a skillet with 5 tablespoons of broth or water. Once bubbles begin to form, add the shredded cabbage, place the lid on the pan, and cook it for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Cook until the cabbage is just barely tender, remove it from the heat, and serve.
* For something different, try adding some shredded cabbage instead of lettuce leaves on a sandwich.
* One pound of fresh cabbage will yield about 6 cups when shredded.
* One medium head of cabbage weighs about 1-3/4 pounds.
* If a recipe calls for red or green cabbage and you’re out, you could substitute Brussels sprouts, savoy cabbage, or napa cabbage. In a pinch, you could even substitute bok choy.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Cabbage
Basil, bay leaf, caraway seeds, cardamom, cayenne, celery seeds, chili pepper flakes, chili powder, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel seeds, juniper berries, lovage, mint, mustard seeds, nutmeg, parsley, pepper, rosemary, salt, thyme, turmeric
Foods That Go Well with Cabbage
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, bacon, beef (esp. ground, corned), chestnuts, chicken, green beans, ham, hemp seeds, lentils, peanuts, peas, pecans, pine nuts, pork, poultry, sausage, seafood, seitan, sesame seeds, snow peas, sugar snap peas, sunflower seeds, tofu, turkey, walnuts
Vegetables: Arugula, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage (other types), carrots, celery, celery root, chiles, cucumbers, dulse, fennel, garlic, ginger, greens (bitter and salad), horseradish, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, radicchio, radishes, scallions, shallots, tomatoes, turnips, watercress
Fruits: Apples (fresh, juice, cider), cranberries (dried, fresh, juice), lemon, lime, pears, pomegranates, raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Bread, bread crumbs, cornstarch, croutons, noodles (esp. Asian), rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Browned butter, butter, cheese (esp. blue, cheddar, feta, goat, Parmesan), cream, milk (dairy and non-dairy), sour cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Brown rice syrup, honey, miso, mustard (prepared, i.e., Dijon), oil (esp. flax, hemp, nut, olive, safflower, sesame, walnut), soy sauce, stock, sugar, tamari, vinegar (esp. apple cider, balsamic, champagne, rice wine, sherry, red and white wine), wine (esp. dry red)
Cabbage has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Asian cuisines, cabbage rolls, Chinese cuisines, coleslaw, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut), Hungarian cuisine, kimchi, relishes, risottos, salads, slaws, soups, spring rolls, stews, stir-fries, stuffed cabbage
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Cabbage
Add cabbage to any of the following combinations…
Apples + Brown Sugar + Caraway Seeds + Vinegar
Apples + Brown Sugar + Onions + Vinegar
Apples + Caraway Seeds
Apples + Garlic + Olive Oil + Tarragon + Vinegar
Apples + Yogurt
Asian Noodles + Cilantro + Sesame Oil + Sesame Sauce + Soy Sauce
Balsamic Vinegar + Feta Cheese + Sunflower Seeds
Brown Rice + Pine Nuts + Tomatoes
Carrots + Cider Vinegar + Mayonnaise + Mustard
Carrots + Ginger + Mint + Wine Vinegar + Sesame Oil
Cheese (i.e., blue, goat) + Walnuts
Chili Pepper Flakes + Garlic + Ginger
Cilantro + Lemon + Mint
Garlic + Ginger + Sesame Oil
Ginger + Lemon
Ginger + Soy Sauce
Pears + Red Onions + Walnuts
Potatoes + Turnips
Rice + Mushrooms + Tofu
Easy Homemade Sauerkraut (Fermented Cabbage) [Judi in the Kitchen video] https://youtu.be/wCr_M3C644A
Easy Sautéed Cabbage (NOT Mushy) [Judi in the Kitchen video] https://youtu.be/Gx8LXJ3Qhok
Vegetarian Healthy Sauté http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=141
Gingered Cabbage http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=181
Napa Cabbage Salad http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=66
5-Minute Healthy Sautéed Red Cabbage http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=240
Spicy Cabbage Soup http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=78
Sweet and Sour Cod with Cabbage and Broccoli http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=136
Sesame Braised Chicken and Cabbage http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=60
Cabbage, Smoked Sausage and Apple Soup https://producemadesimple.ca/cabbage-smoked-sausage-and-apple-soup/
Cabbage Roll Casserole https://producemadesimple.ca/cabbage-roll-casserole/
Hearty Brussels Sprouts and Cabbage Salad https://producemadesimple.ca/hearty-brussels-sprouts-and-cabbage-salad/
20 Ways to Eat More Cabbage https://www.thekitchn.com/20-ways-to-eat-more-cabbage-237481
18 Delicious Ways to Eat More Cabbage This Year https://www.justapinch.com/blog/articles/read/165980/18-delicious-ways-to-eat-more-cabbage-this-year
39 Recipes to Make Anyone Love Cabbage https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/slideshow/cabbage-recipes
26 Creative Cabbage Recipes That Are Way Better Than Coleslaw https://www.delish.com/cooking/g1237/cabbage-recipes/?slide=5
Our 35 Best Cabbage Recipes https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/favorite-cabbage-recipes/view-all/
Cabbage and Apple Slaw with Honey-Lime Dressing https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-cabbage-and-apple-slaw-with-honey-lime-dressing-254147#post-recipe-12456
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.