Cabbage. It’s just a boring ingredient in salads and other recipes, right? Wrong! In reality, cabbage provides many different nutrients and has important implications for health.
There are also many different types of cabbage to choose from. With this post, we’re showing you some of the most popular options, along with some less common ones.
We also highlight some cool recipes and why cabbage should be a part of your diet.
This vegetable is also called the green cabbage. It’s an extremely popular type of cabbage and is the one that you’ll see at grocery stores and farmers markets. For that matter, if anyone just says cabbage, this is the variety they’re referring to.
The name comes from the way the leaves are wound tightly – creating a cannonball-like structure in the center.
Cannonball cabbage is also versatile and easy to find. It can be an inexpensive type of vegetable too, making it a particularly relevant ingredient for your kitchen.
Using Cannonball Cabbage
The dense leaves of this cabbage can be easily shredded or chopped, making it perfect for many different dishes. Coleslaw and sauerkraut are both extremely common choices (plus sauerkraut gives you benefits from fermented foods).
Red cabbage is another especially popular variety. Despite the name, the cabbage is often more purple than red. In fact, the color changes based on soil pH. It tends to have a redder color when the soil is acidic and more purple coloration in neutral soil. If the soil is alkaline, the color can even be yellow-green (1).
Red cabbage is particularly relevant for you because of its plant-based nutrients. The cabbage contains significant polyphenols, including a class of compounds called anthocyanins. Both sets of compounds can improve your health. The anthocyanins are also responsible for the amazing color of the cabbage.
This cabbage has a longer shelf life than the green varieties. Red cabbages will generally have a deeper flavor than green ones. Their leaves tend to be tougher too. But, selective breeding means that there are some more tender varieties out there.
Using Red Cabbage
There are many ways to use red cabbage, including simply sautéing it (Budget Bytes has a great recipe). The cabbage can also be eaten raw. For example, you might chop it finely and use it as part of a coleslaw. This helps make the coleslaw much more interesting.
Savoy cabbage has crinkled leaves, which makes it visually stunning. These leaves tend to be yellow at the base and a deep green around the edges. The cabbage has a somewhat earthy flavor but this is relatively mild and complements many dishes.
Savoy cabbage is also less tightly packed than the previous two varieties. This gives it a shorter shelf life and means you need to use it faster. You’re likely to do that anyway – as savoy cabbage has smaller heads that are easy to slice or grate.
Using Savoy Cabbage
Because this is a tender cabbage, you can use the leaves raw as a wrap or something similar. If you want to try something more unusual, the site Olive has a recipe for Linguine with Savoy Cabbage, Olives and Feta. Primal Palate has a simpler recipe for Savoy Cabbage and Bacon.
Bok choy doesn’t look much like cabbage and it’s much more similar to Swiss chard. The cabbage is dark and leafy, with crisp stems. You’ll hear it called other names too, such as pak choi and bai cai. Chinese cabbage is another common term – although there are other types of Chinese cabbage out there too.
Regardless, bok choy is a type of cabbage, one that you can rely on regularly.
The entire bok choy plant is edible. The leaves tend to be tender and taste a little like Swiss chard. In contrast, the stalk is crunchy. This combination of textures works particularly well in salads and with other sautéed vegetables.
Using Bok Choy
Bok choy is a common choice is Asian meals, along with sautéed vegetables and stir-fries. You can also eat it raw, like in a sandwich or salad. This is a great way to add some extra crunch.
It is often fermented as well. The most common approach is kimchi. Serious Eats has a useful guide about kimchi and how you can make it for yourself. Kimchi can be made with other types of ingredients too. It’s another way to include fermented foods in your diet.
This vegetable is also called cai xin but it is a distinctive type of cabbage. The biggest difference is the presence of yellow flowers. Choy sum also tends to have a longer and somewhat slimmer stalk, with tender leaves.
You’ll often find it at Asian food markets, along with some grocery stores. But, it is normally less common than bok choy.
Using Choy Sum
Choy sum can be used in much the same way as bok choy and you can easily substitute one for the other. One simple recipe to try is Stir-Fried Choy Sum with Minced Garlic, from Serious Eats.
Epicurious also has a fascinating recipe, their Sweet Potato Noodle Stir-Fry with Choy Sum and Shiitake Mushrooms. The title is a mouthful but I’m sure the dish would taste amazing.
This type of cabbage has a more oblong shape and the leaves have a yellow-green tint. The cabbage is also softer and sweeter than other types, making it useful in different recipes.
Using Napa Cabbage
Napa cabbage works especially well in salads due to the sweetness. It is another common choice for kimchi too, including a variation called baechu-kimchi. The site Maangchi has a great recipe for that dish.
January King Cabbage
At first glance, the January King Cabbage might look like a red cabbage. It does have that same deep purple color. However, the leaves also contain green and sometimes blue, making the cabbage a unique specimen.
The name is a homage to the growing season, as the cabbage performs well in cool temperatures. It can even be harvested in winter.
The coloration means this cabbage will be another source of anthocyanins. The anthocyanin concentration may not be as high as red cabbage – but this is still a useful option.
Using January King Cabbage
This cabbage variety is relatively small and some people simply choose to roast it whole. You can try that approach with many cabbages. But, the visual style of the January King Cabbage makes it especially appealing.
This is a slightly confusing cabbage variety, as it also goes by the name Portuguese kale. The cabbage doesn’t form a typical head either. You may not even realize that it is a cabbage at first glance. Another difference is the leaves. These are thicker and sweeter than many other types of cabbage.
Using Portugal Cabbage
The leaves are tough enough that Portugal cabbage isn’t normally eaten raw. Instead, it tends to be cooked and is often included in stews. There aren’t many recipes that specifically use Portugal cabbage – but you can substitute it in any stew recipe that simply calls for cabbage.
Additional Cabbage Varieties
There are many other types of cabbage out there too, including ones that you won’t find at local stores. Some may be sold at farmer’s markets, while others might just be grown in home gardens. The varieties tend to change over time, but some examples are:
- Spring Crisp. This is a hybrid Chinese cabbage with some similarities to napa cabbage. It matures early, which is good news for growers.
- Murdoc. This variety is sometimes used in sauerkraut. It has a pointed shape and thinner leaves as a result of the shape.
- Walking Stick Cabbage. This is a tall cabbage variety that resembles kale. The leaves are typically used when the plant is young. The stem is not normally eaten and is sometimes used to create walking sticks (hence the name).
- Super Elite. This cabbage visually resembles the cannonball cabbage. However, the outer leaves tend to be thick and tougher, while the flavor is sweeter than normal. The toughness of the leaves makes this one good for shipping.
- Early Jersey Wakefield. This is a cone-shaped hybrid cabbage. The flavor tends to be mild and the cabbage is a good choice for sautéing.
- Winningstadt Cabbage. This is another cone-shaped cabbage. It tends to be dark blue-green and you’ll sometimes find it at farmer’s markets. The cabbage is especially good in salads. It’s also just an interesting alternative to try out.
How Cabbage Can Improve Your Health
Cabbage is very good for you – regardless of the variety that you choose.
- Cabbage is a plant and contains a range of nutrients. Diets that heavily rely on plant-based ingredients do tend to promote health. This is reason enough to eat cabbage regularly.
- It tends to be low in calories and fat, but high in fiber.
- It is an effective way to bulk out meals and make them more satisfying.
- Most varieties of cabbage are low in carbs. This makes cabbage perfect for a low-carb or a keto diet. The site Ketogasm offers a great guide for including cabbage on a keto diet.
- You can get very creative with cabbage. For example, cabbage leaves are sometimes used as bread alternatives and there are countless recipes to choose from.
Nutritional Benefits of Cabbage
Cabbage makes a valuable addition to your diet. But, it’s more than that. Cabbage also contains many useful nutrients and has direct implications for health.
- Cabbage has significant levels of anthocyanins and vitamin K (2). Both have been linked to benefits, including protection against nerve damage and improved mental functioning.
- Cabbage contains compounds that may help reduce cancer risk, such as sulforaphane and lupeol. This effect is true for other cruciferous vegetables too (like broccoli) but it is still an important feature (3,4).
- The vegetable can help reduce blood pressure, due to its potassium content.
- Helps reduce inflammation and fight oxidation (5).
- The fiber content can support digestive function.
- Cabbage also includes compounds like calcium, potassium and magnesium. These all contribute to health in various ways, including improvements to your bones. The levels of each compound aren’t high but they still add up.
- The vitamin C content is also significant (6), contributing to the antioxidant effect of cabbage.
This isn’t a complete list, not by any means. There are hundreds of types of cabbage out there. Some are available in the United States, others aren’t. But, this post features the ones you’re most likely to find and include in your cooking.
Each type of cabbage has its own advantages. Some (like cannonball cabbage) are exceptionally easy to find and cook with. Others may be less common but can make your meals more flavorful and interesting.
There is no single best type of cabbage either.
After all, cabbage is simply an ingredient, one of many. To improve your health, you need a diet packed full of nutritious options like cabbage, kale and cauliflower, along with good sources of protein and healthy fats.
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