Cabbage comes in hundreds of varieties and colours, and it’s a very healthy type of leafy vegetable, a versatile plant that can be eaten raw or cooked. Different types of cabbage have their own characteristics and taste. For instance, some cabbage varieties have smooth leaves, while others have crinkly leaves. The napa cabbage has a delicate taste, while regular cabbages have a crunchy texture and a peppery taste. The white portion of the stem is usually removed when preparing the cabbage to be eaten raw, steamed, or braised – it has an unpalatable taste and can be tough to eat.
Let's find out more about the different types and varieties of cabbage and how to use them.
Green cabbage is the most common variety of cabbage. The large cabbage head has thick, tightly packed leaves. Its outer leaves are usually medium- to light-green, fading to pale green or white as they get closer to the centre. Green cabbages are typically eaten raw in salads and as the main ingredients in coleslaw recipes, but you can slice, steam, sauté, or braise most types of green cabbage. Green cabbage can taste slightly peppery when consumed raw, but its taste is sweeter and less spicy when it's cooked. The queen of slaw, green cabbage can stand up to even the heaviest, creamiest, or spiciest of dressings. You can also consume cabbage by fermenting it to make sauerkraut.
Red cabbage resembles green cabbage, except it's red. More precisely, it's magenta in colour. Red cabbage heads are typically smaller than green cabbages, but the leaves are similarly moist-looking and tightly packed. Red cabbage is delicious thinly sliced in salads like red cabbage slaw or cooked. Red cabbage can also be pickled to serve as a side dish in many meals. It turns an odd blue colour when cooked, and you can mitigate this effect by adding vinegar or lemon juice when cooking it. This cabbage is one of the healthiest due to its anthocyanin content, which is beneficial to the cardiovascular system.
Napa cabbage is also known as Chinese cabbage. Napa cabbage doesn't look like head cabbages; it's oblong-shaped and has long, pale green and yellow leaves that grow on thick, white crunchy stalks. It has a lovely delicate flavour and a refreshing peppery kick perfect for salads or stir-fries. Even the white part of the stem doesn't taste bitter or tough to chop up and enjoy raw in a salad. In Asian cuisine, napa cabbage is often cooked in soups, stir-fries, or stews. It can also be fermented to make kimchi.
Savoy cabbages are sometimes referred to as curly cabbages. They are perhaps the prettiest of all cabbages with their deeply ridged, ruffled leaves. Their leaves are more loosely layered and less tightly packed than green or red cabbage, resulting in a small, lovely head. Many people prefer savoy cabbage to regular cabbage because of its milder flavour and tender leaves. This is the perfect cabbage for using raw and thinly sliced in salads, stir-fries, or braised with butter. Savoy cabbage works nicely as a fresh and crunchy wrap – you can substitute it for rice paper or tortillas. Savoy cabbage is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
Black cabbage is an Italian cabbage, also known as Tuscan cabbage, Tuscan kale, or cavolo nero. Sometimes, it goes by the playful name of dinosaur kale. Black Italian cabbage has a thick central stalk and long, spear-like leaves with wrinkled, bubbled surfaces. To prepare it, simply remove the central stem and shred the leaves - as the core can be quite tough, it's best to avoid eating that. Black cabbage is incredibly versatile and can be boiled, stir-fried, steamed or massaged in dressing and consumed raw. Sliced or chopped, the thick leaves can be used as a substitute for romaine in Cesar salad, braised, tossed into pasta dishes, soups, stews, or simply sautéed with oil and garlic. It's an essential ingredient in the regional dish ribollita, and it pairs well with beans and pork. The young, tender leaves are used raw in green or grain salads. Black Italian cabbage has a subtle peppery flavour with a tangy bite that ends on a sweet note.
Black Italian cabbage is packed with nutrients, vitamins, manganese, calcium, iron, folates and dietary fibre. It also contains phytonutrients and flavonoids, which provide beneficial antioxidant properties.
Kale (leaf cabbage)
Kale is one of the healthiest types of cabbage. In contrast to other types of cabbage, kale does not form a cabbage head – its dark green crinkled leaves grow from a central stem. Raw kale leaves can be tough and unappetising to eat, so it’s best to quickly blanch them, so they become softer. As with cabbage, there are many varieties of kale: curly kale, bumpy leaf-kale, plain-leaf kale, and leaf and spear kale. Kale also comes in various colours, such as dark green, purple, and blueish-green. The health benefits of kale make it a superfood – just one cup of chopped kale contains your daily allowance of vitamins A, C, and K.
Pak choi - also called bok choy - has thin, tender dark green leaves that grow from a crunchy white stem. It has a mild but bright cabbage-like flavour. Stir-frying is the most common way to prepare pak choi, but braising also brings out its sweet taste. Baby pak choi can be cooked whole, but its ‘grown up’ version is probably at its best when the leaves are separated and cooked loose. Pak choi is a good source of minerals and vitamins. The leaves contain good amounts of vitamins A, C, and K and some vitamin B6.
Dutch cabbages (also called white cabbages) are green cabbages with pale-coloured, tightly packed leaves. Sunlight usually turns the outer leaves pale green leaving the inner leaves white. A second reason some cabbages have a white appearance is that they are stored through the winter: keeping cabbages in dark, cool environments causes chlorophyll to break down, and the leaves lose their pale green colour.
January king cabbage
The January king cabbage stands out among other head cabbages with its attractive green and purple colours. It has green coloured leaves at the base that change to dark purple or red colour at the top. The leaves have a savoy cabbage texture but are shaped like white cabbages. Prepare this delicious type of cabbage as you would a savoy cabbage – you can use this in place of savoy cabbage to brighten up your dishes. Another cooking tip for the January king cabbage is to roast its sliced or shredded leaves with butter.
Brussels sprouts are related to kale, cauliflower and mustard greens. These cruciferous vegetables resemble mini cabbages and are commonly cut and cooked to make a nutritious side dish. If you find them sold on the stalk, they will keep for several weeks if refrigerated. Cut off the ends, remove any dark green leaves, and then you can prepare these beauties roasted, steamed, or with bacon. They are low in calories but packed with many nutrients, such as fibre, vitamin K, and vitamin C.