Eat Your… Cabbage

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata)

Summer is over. Cooler weather is here. And it’s time to turn our focus towards the southern fall vegetables. This week the spotlight shines on cabbage.

Cabbage is available most commonly in green and purple varieties. This Brassica oleracea cabbage is a round head of leaves wrapped tightly around a central core. Other cabbages, such as Napa (Brassica campestris) or Chinese (Brassica rapa) are completely different species and not to be confused with the common type discussed here.

Origin and History of Cabbage

Cabbage is native to the Mediterranean region and has been cultivated since at least 1500 B.C. The more modern, large diameter, headed varieties were bred into use by at least 200 B.C. The ancient Greeks and Romans valued cabbage for its medicinal and health properties — it can be used to treat inflammation and has recently been shown to have powerful anti-cancer effects. Due to its high vitamin C content, Captain Cook was able to use cabbage to fend off scurvy in his crew. Curiously, in medieval times, cabbage was denigrated as food fit only for peasants.


The most popular way to eat raw cabbage here in the United States is, undeniably, as cole slaw. This is basically shredded cabbage and carrots mixed with mayonnaise, vinegar, and spices. Raw cabbage also makes a great (and crunchier) substitute for lettuce on sandwiches.

Here in the South, we make a cabbage relish called “Chow Chow”. It’s a great topping for beans, peas, and other vegetables. Here’s a good entry and how-to:

Southern Girl Rambling: Chow Chow Is Not Just A Type Of Dog

It’s also good just plain boiled. Roughly chop a head of cabbage, add butter and salt, boil until tender, and you’re done!

Cabbage is loved worldwide and is an integral part of the cultural identification of many peoples. Can you guess which cultures the following cabbage dishes come from? (Scroll past the picture for the answers)

Corned Beef & Cabbage



Stuffed Cabbage

This beautiful picture of red cabbage is courtesy of Flickr user smithsoccasional.

Almost Coleslaw

The answers are Irish, German, Korean, and Polish.

See you next week!

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Ben is a graduate student at NCSU studying Crop Science with an emphasis on Sustainable Agriculture. Official foodie credentials are non-existent, other than the fact that he has been cooking for himself since he was 12 years old. You can find his personal blog at, photos and videos at bengarland’s Flickr photostream, and his plans for a self-constructed cob house and organic farm over at Our Farm Adventure (still a very new work in progress).