As one of the oldest agricultural products, cabbage has been cultivated for thousands of years all across the globe. Today, we have many different types of cabbage to choose from and the delicious international culinary traditions to match. As a result, it’s easy to make this cruciferous vegetable a staple in a balanced, healthy diet. Let’s discover the most common types of cabbage available and learn how to use them in recipes from around the world!
When you think of cabbage, you probably think of green cabbage, with smooth, pale green leaves on the outside and white to yellowish leaves on the inside. Green cabbages are very solid, packing a lot of density into a ball the size of a softball. If you’re picking one up at the store, choose one that feels heavy for its size. If you’re growing it at home, it will be ready for harvest when you press on it, and it feels firm with little to no give.
Green cabbage is most commonly used in cold dishes. Slather it in your favorite dressing, toss it with a few other veggies, and you’ve got an easy salad. You can also shred it with carrots and apples, mix in some mayonnaise and vinegar, and enjoy a fresh summer coleslaw. That said, cooking green cabbage brings out its sweeter flavors. Try it next time in your go-to weeknight stir-fry recipe, or braise the leaves to use as wraps for cabbage rolls.
With its vibrant magenta and purple hues, red cabbage stands out as the most attractive cousin in the brassica family. Its tightly packed leaves weave spirals of violet throughout the head rather than showing color variation. When cooked, it turns a beautiful indigo-blue color unless doused in vinegar.
Like green cabbage, red cabbage is a vitamin C-rich addition to your salads and coleslaws. You can also use it as a topping on burgers or tacos, giving your guilty pleasure meals an additional serving of veggies plus a kick of peppery flavor and crunch. However, the possibilities for red cabbage go far beyond just salads and toppings. Did you know you can also fry, braise, and bake it? With this kind of versatility in the kitchen, red cabbage deserves to be the main character in your next culinary adventure!
White cabbage is a type of green cabbage that has exceptionally pale leaves. Though they were most common in the Mediterranean region, white cabbage became popular in the Netherlands and Germany. These cabbages get their white color from the lack of sunlight during the cold growing season and their ability to be frozen and stored for several months.
Though its leaves are practically colorless, they are full of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins B, C and K, manganese, calcium, and phosphorus make white cabbage an excellent addition to your nutrition plan. Stuff the leaves with ground beef, rice, mushrooms and vegetables to make cabbage rolls. Braise the leaves to a reddish purple color in a hearty borscht soup. Or, use white cabbage in authentic German and Polish tradition: sauerkraut adds a tangy, briny note to kielbasa, Reuben sandwiches, and pierogies.
While the previous three are large spherical heads, napa cabbage is even larger and more oblong in shape. The long, light-green leaves with thick white stalks are reminiscent of romaine lettuce. Use this popular Chinese cabbage in all your Asian-inspired recipes, from stir frys and wraps to salads and soups. Try fermenting napa cabbage to make Korean kimchi if you’re a fan of sour, umami flavors.
With a bizarre appearance that stands out beautifully from the others, we can’t leave out savoy on our tour of cabbages! Its dark green crinkly leaves look like they could have broken off a coral reef or perhaps taken inspiration from the human brain. This rippling, folded texture lends itself well to stir-frying or sautéing with other veggies or braising in butter. Yet, the leaves are tender enough to use raw in salads and offer a low-carb alternative to wraps, tortillas, and rice paper. Toss some savoy cabbage into your next potato and meat stew, or whip up some corned beef and cabbage in the slow cooker or Instant Pot.
Did you know that kale is part of the brassica family alongside other cabbages? Its deep green, curly leaves have a similar appearance to lettuce, but it is, in fact, more akin to Brussel sprouts and cauliflower. Kale has risen in popularity recently because it’s known as a superfood – and no wonder! It contains a massive amount of vitamin C, plus vitamins K, E, and A, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. Add kale to just about anything; it’s highly versatile. Sneak some dark leaves into your smoothies and stews, or roast them with salt and pepper as a potato chip alternative. Braise it in vinegar like collard greens, or soften the leaves in oil to eat raw in a caesar salad.
Brussel sprouts are another nutrient-rich veggie you may be surprised to discover are in the same brassica family. These small, golf ball-sized veggies grow in a bunch along a long, thick stem. Their layers of green leaves look much like miniature versions of larger cabbages. That said, it’s a common misconception that Brussel sprouts are baby cabbages when they are actually a distinct plant species.
Brussel sprouts are not recommended to eat raw, as they are hard to digest (though not impossible). They are best enjoyed sautéed in butter and honey to counteract the bitterness or roasted in olive oil, salt, and pepper. You can also steam them and top with bacon or add them to pasta dishes. When looking for them at the store, try to get Brussel sprouts that are still attached to the stem, as these will keep fresh for longer.
The members of the brassica family are as diverse as they are useful. Some are crinkly and green, and some are smooth and purple. Meanwhile, others don’t look quite so similar to their cousins, with big broad green leaves or a small diameter in comparison. An excellent source of vitamins, fiber and water, it’s no wonder cabbage is also considered one of the most nutritious vegetables. With so much to love about cabbage, consider growing your own in a home garden so that you have more than enough to use in all your favorite recipes.