All About Cabbage: How to Pick, Store, and Prep Cabbage

Here's what you need to know about the healthy, cheap, and super versatile veggie.

Red, green, napa, and savoy cabbages
Red, green, napa, and savoy cabbages | Photo by Meredith.

There's so much to love about cabbage! It's healthy, it's cheap, and it's super versatile. It takes well to all kinds of cooking styles, from the grill to the slow cooker. Cabbage kicks it! Let's take a look at this veggie.

What Is Cabbage?

Cabbage is a leafy vegetable that comes in green, purple or red and white varieties. It grows in heads (like lettuce) with densely packed leaves. Cabbage is one of the "cole crops." (Hence, coleslaw.) Other members of the family are broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and collard greens.

Types of Cabbage

Cabbage comes in four main types: Green, red (or purple), Savoy, and Napa. They have in common layers and layers of alternating leaves, each cupping the next, forming a firm, dense head — although the Savoy cabbage is a little looser, with more frill on the leaves. Let's take a look:

Red or Purple Cabbage

A smooth-leaved, dense cabbage. It's naturally crunchy, ready for raw salads. It also excels at slow braises and quick stir-fries. Red cabbages are harvested typically in late autumn. You'll notice when you cook red cabbage, it turns blue unless you're cooking with a little vinegar or other acid. Red cabbage has more iron than green and is a higher source of vitamin A, too. Check out our collection of Red Cabbage Recipes.

Green Cabbage

Another smooth-leaved cabbage, green cabbages are, along with red, the most abundant in grocery stores. Again like red cabbage, green cabbage has a crunchy texture — and does the raw and the cooked with equal aplomb. Explore our collection of Green Cabbage Recipes.

Napa Cabbage

Napa cabbage is also called Chinese cabbage. The word "Napa," incidentally, has nothing to do with California wine country. It comes from a colloquial Japanese word, "Nappa," a general term for "vegetable leaves," not exclusively cabbage leaves. It's easily distinguishable from green and red cabbages by its oblong shape. Also, the somewhat wrinkly leaves are a very light green, which tapers into a white stem. Napa cabbage is very popular in Asian cooking, including Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisine. It's typically the cabbage of choice for Korean kimchi. Here are some Napa Cabbage Recipes.

Savoy Cabbage

Ruffled, curly leaves and a less densely packed head. The flavor of Savoy cabbage is more delicate than green or red cabbages. Here's our collection of Savoy Cabbage Recipes.

To discover the best ways to prepare cabbage — from braising to grilling, sauteing to roasting — check out How to Cook Cabbage.

How to Buy Cabbage

You want heads that are firm and heavy for their size but not too large. The leaves should be without blemish, of course, and crisp with a nice luster to the leaves. Look for fresh cabbages in the grocery stores between November and April. That's peak time for most cabbages.

Four Types of Cabbage
Prime Produce: Red, Green, Napa, and Savoy Cabbages | Photos by Meredith.

How to Store Cabbage

Store whole heads of cabbage in a plastic bag in the crisper of your fridge for about a month. Sometimes a green or red cabbage will last as long as 6 weeks. Green and red cabbages stay the longest. Savoy cabbages are a little less durable, but they still stay fresh for a few weeks. For best results, leave the heads whole, and don't wash or cut them until you're ready to prep. Also, keeping cabbages chilled in the fridge helps them retain vitamin C.

Cabbage Nutrition

Cabbages are nutrient-dense, phytochemical-rich powerhouses that provide plenty of dietary fiber and are a terrific source of vitamins C and K, plus vitamin B6 and folate. Other compounds in cabbages may have natural antihistamine, anti-cancer, and other disease-fighting properties. Fermented cabbages, meanwhile, like sauerkraut or kimchi, develop healthful probiotics. The Dutch and German navies sailed with barrels of vitamin C-rich sauerkraut to prevent the scourge of scurvy. Reaching further back, the Romans considered cabbage a hangover cure. And if you were Aristotle, musing about in ancient Greece, and you'd sampled a poisonous mushroom by mistake, you'd have chugged cabbage juice as an antidote.

How to Cook With Cabbage

Toss raw cabbage leaves in salads and slaws for a welcome crunch with a sharp flavor. When it's cooked, cabbage's flavor mellows a bit and it becomes more tender — it's a great addition to stir-fries, soups, and stews.

Cabbage Recipes

Corned Beef and Cabbage I
Corned Beef and Cabbage I | Photo by Jenbc27.

Ready to get cooking? Try one of our favorite ways to cook with cabbage:

Check out our collection of Cabbage Recipes.

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