A member of the cruciferous family of vegetables - along with broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, rapini and turnip - cabbage is an exceptional content of phytochemicals called glucosinolates. Once consumed, glucosinolates are transformed into isothiocyanates and indoles, active compunds which have anti-cancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
An enzyme in cruciferous vegetables, called myrosinase, converts glucosinolates to isothiocyanates when they're chopped or chewed. However, this enzyme is destroyed by heat so overcooking your cabbage (and other cruciferous veggies) will reduce its disease-fighting potential.
Eating cruciferous vegetables on a regular basis has been associated with a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and cancers of the breast, lung, colon, prostate and pancreas.
On the nutrition front, cabbage is very low in calories and high in vitamins C and K. In fact, one-half cup of raw cabbage delivers one-third of a day's worth of immune-boosing vitamin C for women (one-quarter of a day's worth for men).
Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) raw red cabbage:
|Vitamin C||25 mg|
|Vitamin K||17 mcg|
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
Cabbage varies in size, colour, texture and taste. Some popular varieties of cabbage include:
The most widely available variety in Canada, green cabbage is also one of the largest; one head yields about 8 cups of shredded cabbage. Green cabbage can vary in colour from light, pale green to dark green and has a very mild flavour. It works well in soups, stews and salads.
Red or purple cabbage
The most striking variety, it's distinguishable by its deep crimson colour. Red cabbage can vary in size, from small to quite large. Its flavour is mild and similar to green cabbage. It's a great addition to soups, stews and salads but be forewarned - its natural colour pigments (phytochemicals called anthocyanins) will turn other foods purple!
Also known as Chinese cabbage or Chinese chard, bok choy has crunchy white stems and green spinach-like leaves and is popular in Asian dishes. Bok choy has a mild, slightly peppery flavour. Very small heads of bok choy are called baby bok choy and are favoured for their tender stalks and leaves. Bok choy is a great addition to salads and stir-fries.
This variety has an oblong shape and pale or dark green leaves. It's also popular in many Asian dishes and can be used as a milder and more delicate alternative to green cabbage. It is often used raw in salads and slaws.
This cabbage is similar to green cabbage in appearance but has crinkled leaves and can vary in colour from dark green to light green. It has a mild flavour.
When purchasing fresh cabbage, look for heads that are compact, firm and heavy for their size. Leaves should be blemish-free and slightly glossy. Avoid cabbage that has brown spots around the edge of the leaves.
Store cabbage in the crisper section of the refrigerator to help retain its freshness and vitamin C content. Heartier varieties of cabbage, such as green and red, will keep for two weeks or longer. More delicate varieties, such as bok choy, will keep for 5 to 7 days.
If storing a partial head of cabbage, be sure to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap; use it within 2 to 3 days for maximum freshness.
To help preserve its vitamin C content, don't cut or wash cabbage until right before you plan to cook or eat it.
To prepare whole heads of cabbage remove the outer coarse leaves, and cut the cabbage into large sections. Even though the outer leaves protect the inside leaves from dirt and sand, it's still a good idea to rinse all parts of the cabbage under cool, running water.
For bok choy, cut off the bottom stem and gently wash leaves under running water.
Depending on how it will be used, cabbage can be chopped, sliced, grated or shredded.
Cut cabbage into wedges; keep part of the core intact to help hold the leaves together. If the cabbage is to be cut into smaller pieces, quarter it then remove the core by cutting out a wedge-shaped section from the base of each quarter.
Take a quarter wedge and place it on a cutting board. (Don't try to slice the whole cabbage at once!) Slice carefully through the wedge vertically. You can have wide ribbons or fine shreds or something in between depending on how closely you make your cuts. Or if you're not handy with a knife, pull out the food processor and shred it using the grating disk.
There are many ways to prepare cabbage. Here are some of the most popular ways to eat this cruciferous vegetable:
Put the cabbage and just enough liquid to cover it in a large skillet. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer. Try different liquids for braising such as low sodium chicken stock, apple juice, apple cider or wine. Add some onion, shallots or a pinch of sea salt to the braising liquid for extra flavor.
Place quartered, sliced or shredded cabbage in a vegetable steamer over boiling water, or in a pan with about 1/2-inch boiling water. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Steam large wedges for 10 to 15 minutes; shredded cabbage for 5 to 10 minutes.
Stir-fry sliced or shredded cabbage on its own or as part of a mixed-vegetable dish. Cook quickly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Cabbage can also be sautéed in a saucepan using wine, stock or juice instead of oil.
Fresh cabbage is a great addition to soups, salads, casseroles, sandwiches, even burgers. Experiment with different varieties of cabbage to add colour, taste and texture to meals.
Coleslaw isn't the only way to enjoy this cruciferous vegetable. Sauerkraut is perhaps one of the most famous prepared cabbage dishes and is a tasty addition to burgers and sausages. Looking for something spicy? Kimchi is a spicy Korean condiment made from fermented cabbage that's delicious eaten on its own, or added to rice. Look for it in Asian markets or major grocery stores.
Healthy ways to enjoy
- Add shredded red or purple cabbage to an omelet along with coarsely chopped spinach and a sliced orange bell pepper. Season to taste with coarse sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.
- Add shredded cabbage to a sandwich or burger instead of lettuce.
- Make a colourful salad with red cabbage, green cabbage and shredded carrots. Click here for a recipe.
- Add shredded green or red cabbage to a bowl of bean soup.
- Enjoy a bowl of borscht - a Ukrainian style soup made with cabbage. Click here for a recipe.
- Use cabbage leaves to wrap a homemade taco or burrito.
- Sauté red cabbage with diced apple for a quick, and healthy side dish. Click here for a recipe.
- Make nasi-goreng, a traditional Indonesian rice dish with cabbage. Click here for a recipe.
- Add shredded cabbage to a stir-fry for a boost of phytochemicals.
- Make your own cabbage rolls. Click here for a recipe.
Did you know?
- In European folk medicine, cabbage leaves were used to treat acute inflammation.
- The largest cabbage dish ever prepared was in Macedonia in 2008 and contained over 80,000 cabbage rolls, weighing more than 1200 pounds!