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If you haven’t eaten cabbage in a while, we urge you to look again at this healthy, unsung hero of the vegetable world. Want beautiful skin, to lose weight, or a great immune system? See five great reasons to eat (and grow) cabbage!
Before we had the little greenhouse that enables us to grow salad and cooking greens all winter, we grew between 50 and 100 green and red cabbages each year—and ate them all. I loved looking at them as they grew like giant flowers in the garden, then as they rested side by side in the root cellar. See how to grow cabbage.
Last spring was the first time in 40-plus years of gardening that I did not grow a single cabbage. I find myself wishing I had (especially red cabbage), despite having more vegetables than our now-two-person household knows what to do with.
Cabbage offers huge health benefits that can not be ignored! Many health benefits are similar to broccoli (they’re in the same plant family). Cabbage is high in beta-carotene, vitamin C and fiber. (Vitamin C to reduce toxins which are the main causes of arthritis, gout, and skin diseases.) Also, cabbage may reduce the risk of some forms of cancer including colorectal cancers.
It’s cheap and widely available year-round. There are so many varieties of cabbage, too, including Green, Savoy, red, Napa, bok choy, and Brussels Sprouts (tiny cabbages!). It is possible to enjoy eating cabbage pretty much all year round. Although most any cabbage will work for any use, plant breeders have developed many varieties in many colors and textures. Some are sweet, mild, tender as lettuce; others rock hard and good for shredding or slicing crosswise into thick “steaks” for roasting.
Cabbage lasts longer in the fridge than most vegetables. If cabbage is properly stored, it can last from 3 weeks to up to 2 months in your refrigerator. In optimum root cellar conditions, it can even last longer. Store in a hydrator drawer if possible. Do not remove the outer leaves nor wash until ready to use.
It’s versatile. I’ve sliced it into soups and salads, shredded it into coleslaws, stir-fried it with onions and apples, fermented it into sauerkraut, stuffed whole cabbages or individual cabbage leaves, steamed it, boiled it, fried it, roasted it, and grilled it. I’ve even experimented with cabbage desserts, not always successfully! (See more about cooking below.)
Cabbage is even great for weight loss and beautiful skin! I’m sure you’ve heard of the cabbage diet (not that I would recommend it). There are only 33 calories in a cup of cooked cabbage, and it is low in fat and high in fiber. Cabbage also helps keep skin looking healthy, toned, blemish-free and glowing; it’s rich in antioxidants (including vitamin C and beta-carotene).
There are many more benefits to cabbage. Definitely add this unsung hero to your grocery shopping list!
How to Buy Cabbage
In the grocery store, always look for cabbage heads that feel heavy for their size and, except for Napa cabbage, have tightly packed leaves. The heads don’t need to be perfect; you can peel off and discard the outer leaves.
The most common cabbage is green, but red cabbage has become increasingly popular for color in salads and cooked dishes. There are also very pretty Savoy varieties with waves of blue-green leaves which are best raw in salads or in a slaw. Cooked Savoys do not have the strong sulfur odor of green cabbage.
How to Cook Cabbage
Sadly, many folks think cabbage as smelly, but blame the cook, not the cabbage. This odor is the result of overcooking. If you make the common mistake of overcooking cabbage, I urge you to try again! Do NOT overcook cabbage! The longer the cabbage is cooked, the more smelly it becomes.
If boiling cabbage, cook very briefly, just until tender. Do not cook cabbage in aluminum pans; use stainless steel pots and pans. Finally, it helps to add a few drops of vinegar while cooking or wipe the inside lid of the pan with vinegar.
Or, try steaming wedges of cabbage for 5 to 7 minutes. Top with butter and a pinch of salt and pepper or even with grated cheese.
Another idea is to sear cabbage by heating it in a very hot pan with a little bit of olive oil and butter (and a pinch of salt) until the cabbage wilts.
Or, try roasting cabbage. Get the roasting pan really hot in the oven, and then put wedges of cabbage (tossed in olive oil and a little salt), and roast until slightly caramelized.
Cabbage is wonderful added to sautes and stir fries. It tastes great alongside peppers, onions, etc.
Cabbage is also great in a coleslaw. Chop finely or shred and then toss with shredded carrots and green onions. Add any other vegetables that you would like. Toss with a yogurt/mayonnaise dill dressing or a vinaigrette.
Large cabbage leaves can replace a tortilla for light and summery wrap sandwiches.
The cultivated cabbage originated somewhere in Europe more than 2000 years ago, and has become a common staple in cuisines around the world. Its ubiquity in our own markets and on American dinner tables is probably why “cabbage” is also versatile as a figure of speech, with dozens of slang meanings (many of them unprintable here).
The word cabbage is related to the French word caboche, which also means “blockhead” or “moron,” and seems to be the origin of the pejorative “cabbagehead” (“moron”).
Use it as a noun (many meanings): We’ve gotta clear all this cabbage off the kitchen table.I need a new computer, but I don’t have the cabbage.
An adjective: He’s such a cabbage-mouth. Your idea is totally cabbage. (Could mean either a terrible idea or a good one).
A verb: I forgot to lock it, and somebody cabbaged my car while I was in the supermarket. (Could mean either trashed or stolen.)
Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles