Cabbage is that basic, everyday vegetable that’s commonly known to be either a green or red ball of tightly woven leaves and sometimes disliked due to its unexcitable flavour. However, do you know there are many varieties of cabbage? Furthermore, cabbage can be just as delicious as other vegetables when cooked as a dish on its own or added as an ingredient to other recipes.
Most cabbages are comprised of layers of leaves overlapping one another to form a ball or tightly woven oblong or conical shape. However, there are variations that are more floral in appearance and mellow in flavour. The common colour varieties remain as shades of green, white and red or purple.
The most common variety of all cabbages is the green cabbage. As the name denotes, it has tightly packed thick green leaves that form into a ball shape. The inner leaves are softer in texture and whiter whilst the outer leaves are more ‘leathery’ and light green. Usually, the bigger the cabbage, the tougher the outer leaves. The stem of the cabbage is white and extremely hard and is usually removed before cooking or saved to make stock or soup. Green cabbage may be eaten raw or cooked, broiled or braised and has a slightly sweet flavour. A common way to prepare is stir-fry it, whereas raw cabbage is more suitable for salads like coleslaw where the cabbage is finely shredded replacing the ‘leathery’ texture with a crunchier bite. When cooking cabbage, caution must be taken not to overcook it as it can become limp and mushy.
The white cabbage or Dutch cabbage is a type of green cabbage with lighter coloured leaves and widely grown in The Netherlands, hence the name. Prepared similarly, white cabbage can be stored in a cool and dark place for a few months. It is usually used to make sauerkraut, and therefore sometimes also named German cabbage.
Conical in shape, this is a variation of the white cabbage. However, the leaves are delicate and therefore pointed cabbage doesn’t store well for long. It is best used within a couple of days of purchase. Remove the outer leaves, cut the cabbage into quarters and remove the hard stalk easily before stir-frying or braising.
Sliced finely or shredded, the brilliant hues of this cabbage are perfect additions to salads. Red cabbage, also referred to as purple cabbage due to its colour, is longer-lasting than the softer green and white cabbage varieties and can be stored in the vegetable drawer of the fridge for a few weeks. Red cabbage tends to lose its colour and turns bluish when it is cooked. Acidic ingredients such as lime, lemon or vinegar are usually added while cooking red cabbage to prevent the cabbage changing colour. Popular preparations for this cabbage include coleslaw as well as pickling or fermenting and braising with apples.
With darker green and crinkled leaves, the savoy cabbage is surely the prettiest. The leaves are loosely bound due to the uneven, curly surfaces. The wrinkled leaves tend to be softer and sweeter than those of the regular green cabbage but used in a similar way. Savoy cabbage can be finely chopped for salads, or the whole leaves can be used for cabbage rolls.
Chinese cabbage (Napa)
Napa cabbage is rectangular with whitish-green leaves that look like thick romaine lettuce. With softer leaves and a milder flavour, this cabbage can be eaten raw or added as a garnish to soups at the last minute. In Chinese cuisine it is often added to a meat mix for dumplings or used in a quick stir-fry with garlic. This cabbage needs only to be cooked for a few minutes or it will become limp and mushy.
January king cabbage
This variety of cabbage is named after its harvest month and the fact that it survives the winter months. This cabbage has beautiful purple-green leaves with a savoy-type curly head. It can be prepared in a similar way as savoy and only requires a few minutes of stir-frying in butter.
Despite the nomenclature, Tuscan cabbage belongs to the cauliflower family. Like kale in appearance, the large dark green–blackish leaves are softer and sweeter. They take a little longer to cook and can be braised, boiled or sautéed with garlic or pine nuts to bring out the flavour. Once cooked, this cabbage has a silky texture, and the taste can be slightly bitter.
This type of Chinese cabbage has tender white and green leaves, but unlike a Chinese cabbage, bok choy doesn’t form a head and looks more like a bulb. It is best when quickly stir-fried to avoid it becoming too soft.
As with all other cabbages, bok choy is a great source of vitamins A, C, K, and B6 as well as minerals.
These miniature looking cabbages grow in a different way on stems, whilst cabbages grow closer to the ground. Brussels sprouts belong to the cauliflower and broccoli family, so they are not really a variety of cabbage. However, since they do look like miniature cute cabbages, let’s just give them a little publicity here! Brussels sprouts can taste a little bitter but are delicious when finely shredded into a salad, or blanched and tossed in butter.
This is by far the most beautiful cabbage, and it is similar in appearance to broccoli, and sometimes called Romanesco broccoli, Romanesco cauliflower, or broccolo Romanesco for this reason. Being tender, it can be eaten raw as it is easy to digest or can be stir-fried with other vegetables and flavourings.
Just as there are numerous varieties of cabbages, there are even more ways in which they can be prepared and turned into delicious dishes. Cabbage is often thought of as a boring vegetable, but it can be transformed into interesting and tasty preparations.