From tiny Brussels sprouts to large green heads, cabbages come in many shapes and sizes. Local varieties are readily available this time of year at farmers markets and in some grocery stores. Even with all of the wonderful types available, U.S. cabbage consumption has decreased in the last 10 years from 8 pounds per person in 2008 to less than 6 pounds per person in 2018. The most common cabbages are green and red, but branching out into other types can add a unique twist to your meal.
While the origin of cabbage is considered to be Asia, hard cabbages as food were popularized by the Celts of central and western Europe. These tightly packed round heads were cultivated in cooler parts of Europe having been introduced by nomads in 600 B.C. Cabbage was first introduced to the Americas in the 16th century by French explorer Jacques Cartier. As with many of our American foods, the various cabbages found their way to us through early explorers, settlers and later immigrants.
Red and green cabbage
When shopping for these, look for tightly packed heads that feel heavy for their size. Green cabbages can range from the size of a baseball to that of a basketball while red cabbages will be slightly smaller. Both can be used in slaw and salads or cooked down by themselves or as a stir-fry. Both are prevalent in German-American cuisine and the green can be used to make sauerkraut while the red is traditionally cooked down with apples. The leaves of green cabbage are also ideal for cabbage rolls. Red and green versions are both grown locally and can be found in grocery stores that carry local produce as well as farmers markets.
Also known as curly cabbage because of its ruffled, lacy leaves, savoy cabbages are not as tightly packed as green and red cabbages. However, you can prepare savoy cabbage in the same manner. Savoy cabbage is more tender than other varieties and is perfect for wraps or used in place of a tortilla. Developed in the 16th century, this variety is young in comparison to its red and green cousins.
Napa cabbage is also known as Chinese cabbage and looks more like a head of romaine lettuce than cabbage. The flavor is milder and sweeter than green cabbage. Napa cabbage is great for salads or stir-fries. It is prevalent in Chinese cuisine an can be used to make kimchi.
Bok choy and baby bok choy
These cabbages look nothing like the familiar green cabbage. The leaves of bok choy grow more like lettuce from a central stalk. Baby bok choy is younger and is harvested when the plant is about 6 inches tall. The baby version is sweeter. Native to China, bok choy is frequently used in stir-fries but can also be braised or grilled to bring out its sweet flavor. It can also be used to make kimchi. This cabbage is grown locally and is available through farmers markets and farm delivery.
Because of its cone shape, caraflex cabbage is also called conehead cabbage. Caraflex cabbage is much sweeter than green or red cabbage and its leaves are thinner. The cabbage is tightly packed, however, just like green cabbage, with the outermost leaves a bit looser. Native to Germany, Caraflex cabbage is preferred for making winter batches of sauerkraut. This cabbage is grown locally and available at farmers markets.
While this is a collection of commonly available cabbages in our region, it is not all-inclusive. There are hundreds of varieties and you will undoubtedly come across an unfamiliar one if you travel abroad or visit international grocery stores in your travels here at home.