Monday, 11 May 2009 | Tags: ,

One of the oldest cultivated vegetables in history, cabbage has some fantastic health benefits. But did you know that there are hundreds of different varieties of cabbage? We find out more about cabbage to see if we're missing out on anything by sticking to our old faithful green variety.

The Basics

  • Cabbage belongs to the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, and rutabaga, just to name a few.

  • Cabbage is eaten raw, cooked, and preserved all over the world. Popular dishes include coleslaw (US/Europe), curry (India), perogies (Eastern Europe), cabbage rolls (Eastern Europe/Middle East), colcannon (Ireland), bubble and squeak (Britain), kimchi (Korea), and sauerkraut (Germany).

  • There are hundreds of varieties of cabbage, but only a few are grown commercially in North America. Cabbage’s short, 3-month growing period means it produces more food per acre per year than any other vegetable. Plus, it grows year round, and thrives especially in colder months.

  • When shopping for cabbage, here’s what to look for to make sure you’re getting the freshest possible produce:

    • Leaves should be crisp, shiny, and tightly-packed. If you bend a fresh leaf, it should bounce back, not fold over limply.

    • The head should be firm and heavy for its size.

    • When you smell the cabbage, its aroma should be mild and fresh. Avoid any strong-smelling cabbages.

    • Check that the core at the base of the cabbage appears fresh and firm. Avoid any with cores turning woody or that are split.

    • Cabbages at the grocery store should be dry since moisture speeds up decay. Avoid those that have been kept under misters on the shelf.

    • Look for a cabbage with its outer leaves intact and in fairly good condition. Looking at the base, if you see outer leaves have been cut away, it’s probably because they were looking limp, which means that it’s past its prime.

    • The colour of green and Savoy cabbage leaves tend to be dark green on the outer layers. On older cabbages, they cut away the darker, limp leaves to reveal light green inner leaves, which means it’s not fresh.

    • Red cabbage should be deep purple in colour.

    • Although cabbage is available year-round, its peak is late fall and winter, when cool temperatures give it a sweeter flavour.

  • Store your whole head of cabbage in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Stored like this, green and red cabbage keeps for about 2 weeks, while Savoy and Napa cabbage keeps for about 1 week.

  • To store a partial head of cabbage, wrap it tightly in plastic and keep in the refrigerator. Use within a few days since the longer the cut cabbage sits, the more vitamin C and phytonutrients it loses.

Other Considerations

  • 1 cup of raw green cabbage contains fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, virtually no fat, tons of phytonutrients and anti-oxidants, and is only about 22 calories. Plus, vegetables in the cabbage family are thought to lower your risk of developing some cancers, and can signal the body to produce higher levels of disease-fighting enzymes.

  • Red cabbage is even higher in phytonutrients than green varieties. It may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

  • Sauerkraut and kimchi, which use fermented cabbage rather than cooked, have similar health benefits and are also a great source of probiotic live bacterial cultures, such as those found in yogurt.

  • Use stainless steel knives to cut cabbage, as carbon steel can cause it to discolour.

Be Aware

  • Try not to buy pre-cut cabbage since it begins to lose vitamin C soon after it is cut.

Soured or Pickled Cabbage (aka Sauerkraut)

  • Pickled cabbage is rich in vitamin B6, which is important in the breakdown of protein.

  • To select cabbage for pickling, look for a mature, white, juicy head, which makes the pickled version crunchy and chewable. (New, fresh cabbage is better suited for slaw or salad.)

  • It’s easy to make pickled cabbage:

    • Shred 3.5 lbs of cabbage into manageable portions (4-5 cups).

    • Work 2 tbsp coarse salt into the cabbage by mixing it in and squeezing the leaves with your hands until the juice starts flowing.

    • Place the cabbage into an enamel, stainless steel, or ceramic pot. (Do not use aluminum, which will leach into the cabbage during fermentation.)

    • Place a smaller lid or plate directly on top of the cabbage, put a weight on it, cover with a towel, and place in a warm spot for 5 days. 

    • After 5 days, the cabbage should be crunchy with a sweet-and-sour flavour. Place in sealed glass jars and store in the fridge.

Fun Cabbage Facts

  • The average Russian eats 7 times more cabbage than the average North American.

  • Babe Ruth used to wear a cabbage leaf under his baseball cap to keep him cool during games. Every few innings, he would change it for a fresh one. (Seriously!)

  • China produces the most cabbage in the world, about 36,000,000 tonnes annually. India, the next biggest producer, grows about 5,000,000 tonnes annually.


To find out which type of cabbage tastes best in coleslaw, we tried out 4 different types that are commonly found in North America. We tested:

  • Green cabbage: $0.66/lb
  • Red cabbage: $0.99/lb
  • Savoy cabbage: $0.99/lb
  • Napa cabbage: $0.99/lb

(Note: the prices above are approximate to provide an idea relative cost. Produce prices vary seasonally.)

Raw Taste Test

First we tried the cabbages raw with no dressing to see how they tasted:

  • Everyone thought the raw green cabbage was kind of limp and tasted more like a sweet lettuce than cabbage.

  • The raw red cabbage was popular for its crunchy texture and fresh taste.

  • The raw Savoy cabbage got one vote. Most said it had a very strong cabbage-y taste.

  • Nobody liked the raw Napa cabbage, which tasted very bitter and unpleasant.

Dressed Taste Test

Then we dressed our sample cabbages up with a coleslaw dressing and re-tasted each to see if it made a difference.

  • The green cabbage still didn’t impress and was described as soggy, limp, and not very remarkable.

  • The Savoy cabbage garnered a few votes from the red cabbage in the raw test. It was crunchy and flavourful with the dressing.

  • The red cabbage was still a popular pick, maintaining its crunchy texture and fresh flavour.

  • The Napa cabbage once again got no votes. It still tasted quite bitter, even with the dressing.


We ended up with a tie between the red cabbage and the Savoy. What we learned from our research, however, is that we were missing out on some good crunch and flavour by sticking to the more common green cabbage. So don’t be afraid to try different varieties of your favourite vegetables and do your own comparison taste tests! 

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