The cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata), is a leafy garden plant of the Family Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae), used as a vegetable. It is a herbaceous, biennial, dicotyledonous flowering plant distinguished by a short stem upon which is crowded a mass of leaves, usually green but in some varieties red or purplish, forming a characteristic compact, globular cluster (cabbagehead).
The plant is also called head cabbage or heading cabbage, and in Scotland bowkail, from its rounded shape. The Scots call its stalk a castock, and the British call its head a loaf.
The cultivated cabbage is derived from a leafy wild mustard plant, native to the Mediterranean region, where it is common along the seacoast. Also called sea cabbage and wild cabbage, it was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans; Cato the Elder praised this vegetable for its medicinal properties, declaring that "It is the cabbage which surpasses all other vegetables." The English name derives from the Normanno-Picard caboche (head), perhaps from boche (swelling, bump). Cabbage was developed by ongoing artificial selection for suppression of the internode length. It is related to the turnip.
Cabbage leaves often display a delicate, powdery, waxy coating called bloom. The sharp or bitter taste sometimes present in cabbage is due to glucosinolate(s).
The only part of the plant that is normally eaten is the leafy head; more precisely, the spherical cluster of immature leaves, excluding the partially unfolded outer leaves.
The so-called 'cabbage head' is widely consumed raw, cooked, or preserved in a great variety of dishes.
Raw cabbage is usually sliced into thin strips or shredded for use in salads, such as coleslaw
. It can also replace iceberg lettuce
in sandwiches. Cabbage is also used raw in Pico de gallo
because of its naturally mild spicy flavor.
Cabbage is often added to soups
. Cabbage soup is popular in central Europe
and eastern Europe
, and cabbage is an ingredient in some kinds of borscht
(from Provençal garburo
) is a thick soup of cabbage or other vegetables with bacon. Cabbage may be an ingredient in kugel
, a baked pudding served as a side dish or dessert. Cabbage is also used in many popular dishes in India.
Boiling tenderizes the leaves and releases sugars, which leads to the characteristic "cabbage" aroma. Boiled cabbage has become stigmatized in North America because of its strong cooking odor and the belief that it causes flatulence. Boiled cabbage as an accompaniment to meats and other dishes can be an excellent source of vitamins and dietary fiber. It is often prepared and served with boiled meat and other vegetables as part of a boiled dinner.
Cabbage rolls, a type of dolma, are an East European and Middle Eastern delicacy. The leaves are softened by parboiling or by placing the whole head of cabbage in the freezer, and then stuffed with a mixture of chopped meat and/or rice. Stuffed cabbage is called holishkes in Yiddish. A vegetable stuffed with shredded cabbage and then pickled is called mango.
Bubble and squeak consists of potatoes and cabbage or, especially formerly, potatoes, cabbage and meat fried together. Potatoes and cabbage or other greens boiled and mashed together make up a dish called colcannon, an Irish Gaelic word meaning white-headed cabbage, grounded in Old Irish terms for cabbage or kale (cāl), head (cend or cenn) and white (find). In the American South and Midland, corn dodgers were boiled as dumplings with cabbage and ham.
Fermented and preserved
Cabbage is the basis for the German sauerkraut
, Chinese suan cai
and Korean kimchi
. To pickle cabbage it is cut fine, placed in a jar, covered with a brine made of its own juice with salt, and left in a warm place for several days to ferment. Sauerkraut, or simply kraut, was historically prepared at home in large batches, as a way of storing food for the winter. The word comes from Old High German sūr
(sour) and krūt
(herb or cabbage). Cabbage can also be pickled in vinegar with various spices, alone or in combination with other vegetables. (Turnips can be cured in the same way.) Korean baechu
kimchi is usually sliced thicker than its European counterpart, and the addition of onions, chillies, minced garlic and ginger is common.
Cabbage is an excellent source of Vitamin C. It also contains significant amounts of glutamine, an amino acid
, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
It is a source of indol-3-carbinol, or I3C, a compound used as an adjuvent therapy for recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, a disease of the head and neck caused by human papillomavirus (usually types 6 and 11) that causes growths in the airway that can lead to death.
In European folk medicine, cabbage leaves are used to treat acute inflammation. A paste of raw cabbage may be placed in a cabbage leaf and wrapped around the affected area to reduce discomfort. Some claim it is effective in relieving painfully engorged breasts in breastfeeding women.
There are many varieties of cabbage based on shape and time of maturity. Cabbages grown late in autumn and in the beginning of winter are called coleworts
; their leaves do not form a compact head. "Colewort" may also refer to a young cabbage. The word comes from Latin caulis
(stalk of a plant, cabbage) and Old English wyrt
(herb, plant, root). A drumhead cabbage
has a rounded, flattened head. An oxheart cabbage
has an oval or conical head. A pickling cabbage
, such as the red-leafed cabbage, is especially suitable for pickling; krautman
is the most common variety for commercial production of sauerkraut. Red cabbage
is a small, round-headed type with dark red leaves. Savoy cabbage
has a round, compact head with crinkled and curled leaves. Winter cabbage
will survive the winter in the open in mild regions such as the southern United States; the name is also used for Savoy cabbage. Other traditional varieties include "Late Flat Dutch", "Early Jersey Wakefield" (a conical variety) and "Danish Ballhead" (late, round-headed).
Broadly speaking, cabbage varieties come in two groups, early and late. The early varieties mature in about 45 days. They produce small heads which do not keep well and are intended for consumption while fresh. The late cabbage matures in about 87 days, and produces a larger head.
Cabbage can be started indoors or sowed directly. Like all brassicae, cabbage is a cool season crop, so early and late plantings do better than those maturing in the heat of the summer.
Control of insect pests is important, particularly in commercial production where appearance is a driver of success. The pesticides sevin and malathion are both listed for use on cabbage. A plant collar, consisting of a band of tar paper or similar material, is sometimes placed around the base of the stem of transplanted seedlings to protect them from injury by insects.
Cabbages keep well and were thus a common winter vegetable before refrigeration and long-distance shipping of produce.
is the leader in production of cabbages followed by India
and then the Russian Federation
|Top Ten Cabbage Producers — 2005
|| Production (Int $1000)
|| Production (MT)
|| F |
|| F |
|| * |
|| F |
|| F |
|| F |
|| * |
|| 1,292,687 |
|| F |
|No symbol = official figure,F = FAO estimate, * = Unofficial figure, C = Calculated figure;|
Production in Int $1000 have been calculated based on 1999-2001 international prices
Source: Major Food and Agricultural commodities and producers - Countries by commodity. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Among the many destructive diseases affecting the cabbage and often other members of the cabbage family are:
- blackleg or black stem, caused by certain fungi (such as Phoma lingam); lesions in the stem near the soil surface become sunken and dark, and may girdle the stem
- black ring or black ring spot, caused by a virus; necrotic, dark and often sunken rings on the leaf surface
- black rot, caused by a bacterium (Xanthomonas campestris)
- cabbagehead, abnormal growth in rutabagas caused by larvae of a gall midge (Contarinia nasturtii) feeding in basal part of the stalks
- cabbage yellows or cabbage wilt, caused by a fungus ( Fusarium oxysporum or Fusarium conglutinans); yellowing and dwarfing
- clubroot, common, caused by a protist (Plasmodiophora brassicae), formerly classified as a slime mold; swellings or distortions of the root, followed often by decline in vigor or by death
- wire stem, caused by a fungus (Pellicularia filamentosa or Rhizoctonia solani); constricted, wiry stem; similar to damping-off but attacks older seedlings
(See also List of Lepidoptera that feed on Brassica
Many insects and other pests infest cabbage plants, among them:
- cabbage worm, any of numerous insect larvae that feed on cabbages:
- imported cabbage worm, the green larva of the cabbage butterfly or cabbage white, any of several largely white butterflies (family Pieridae, type genus Pieris, garden whites); they include a small cosmopolitan form (P. rapae), called also small white; a larger Old World form (P. brassicae), called also large white; a common North American form ( P. protodice), called also checkered white or southern cabbage butterfly; and the green-veined white (P. napi), occurring in Europe and North America; larvae eat the leaves, are toxic to animals that consume the infested foliage
- cabbage moth or diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) larva, cosmopolitan of European origin
- cabbage webworm (Hellula undalis), widely distributed, native to southern Europe or Asia, destructive in the U.S. Gulf states
- cabbage aphid, cabbage aphis or turnip aphid, widely distributed and destructive grayish green plant louse (Brevicoryne brassicae); lives on leaves
- cabbage curculio, small weevil (Ceutorhynchus rapae); feeds within stems and on leaves
- cabbage fly, cabbage root fly, root fly or turnip fly (Hylemya brassicae or Delia radicum, family Anthomyiidae), adult of small white cabbage maggot or root maggot that feeds in roots and stems
- cabbage-leaf miner, small fly (Phytomyza rufipes) whose maggot is injurious
- cabbage looper, pale green, white-striped measuring worm (Trichoplusia ni), larva of a moth of the family Noctuidae; feeds on leaves
- cabbage seedpod weevil (Ceutorhynchus assimilis), small, grayish black; related to the cabbage curculio but smaller; feeds on and destroys developing seeds
- cabbage snake, nematode worm of the family Mermithidae, parasitic on insect pests
- gamma moth or silver Y moth (Plusia gamma) larva; migratory European noctuid moth having a bright silvery Y-shaped mark on each fore wing
- harlequin cabbage bug (Murgantia histrionica), black stinkbug in tropical America and the warmer parts of the United States
- serpentine leaf miner, grub that is the larva of a small fly (Liriomyza brassicae); eats out slender, white, winding burrows in the leaves
- striped flea beetle (Phyllotreta striolata); has a yellow line on each elytron
- zebra caterpillar, larva of an American noctuid moth (Ceramica picta); light yellow with a broad black stripe on the back and lateral stripes crossed with white
Related Brassica varieties and species
Besides cabbage proper, the species Brassica oleracea
has many distinctive cultivars
which are commonly known by other names. They include: broccoli
(Italica Group); Brussels sprouts
(Gemmifera Group), whose edible small green heads resemble diminutive cabbages; cauliflower
(Botrytis Group), whose flower cluster is used as a vegetable; Chinese kale
or Chinese broccoli
(Alboglabra Group); kale
or spring greens
, a very hardy cabbage (Acephala group) that has curled, often finely cut leaves which do not form a dense head, and that some consider to be the original form of the cultivated cabbage; collard greens
, a type of kale; and kohlrabi
(Gongylodes Group), having an edible stem that becomes greatly enlarged, fleshy and turnip-shaped. Hybrids include broccolini
(Italica × Alboglabra Group), broccoflower
(Italica × Botrytis Group) and choumoelliera
or marrow cabbage
(cabbage, kohlrabi and kale).
There are two species of Chinese cabbage (lettuce cabbage, pakchoi, pechay) from Asia that somewhat resemble cabbage and are widely used as greens: Brassica chinensis, bok choy or celery cabbage, which forms a loose, chardlike head of dark green leaves, and Brassica pekinensis, or pe-tsai (peh-tsai), forming an elongated compact head of broad, light green leaves. Rape, an annual herb (Brassica napus) of European origin but known only as a cultigen, differs from the cabbage in its deeply lobed leaves, which are not hairy like those of the turnip.
Other 'cabbage' plants
A number of other non-cruciferous plants bear the name "cabbage" or are likened to it by their appearance, though many are not food plants with parts for human consumption.
- Several palms called cabbage palm or cabbage tree have a terminal bud (cabbage, palm cabbage or palmito) eaten like cabbage as a vegetable, including:
- assai palm (palmiste, royal palm, sago palm, Euterpe edulis)
- cabbage palmetto (palm cabbage, palm thatch, pond top, pond top palmetto, sabal palmetto, swamp cabbage, species Sabal palmetto), a fan palm with an edible young terminal bud called heart of palm
- Cussonia genus, an araliaceous tree
- Livistona, especially L. australis, from Australia, from whose fibrous leaves the cabbage-tree hat is plaited
- mountain palm (Roystonea oleracea), a tall West Indian palm, the source of partridgewood
- saw cabbage palm (saw palmetto, Paurotis wrightii)
- ti (Cordyline australis), a medium-sized New Zealand tree
- Other kinds of trees seen as bearing a resemblance include:
- cabbage bark (genus Andira), also called angelim or worm bark, whose bark (cabbage bark) is sometimes used in medicine as a vermifuge
- Surinam cabbage tree (Andira retusa), having bark that is used as an anthelmintic and cathartic
- black cabbage tree (Melanodendron integrifolium), with a campanulate involucre about the flower head
- cabbage gum (especially Eucalyptus pauciflora and E. virgata), probably so called from the fleshy leaves
- Still other cabbagy plants include:
- cabbage rose (also moss rose, pale rose or Provence rose, Rosa centifolia), a fragrant garden rose having full white or pink flowers, with a dwarf variety (pomponia) called pompon
- deer cabbage (Lupinus diffusus), a lupine
- dog cabbage (dog's cabbage, Cynocrambe prostrata), a fleshy southern European herb
- head lettuce (cabbage lettuce, Lactuca sativa capitata), distinguished by leaves arranged in a dense rosette which ultimately develops into a compact head suggesting that of cabbage
- Kerguelen cabbage, a herb (Pringlea antiscorbutica, also called horseradish) in the family Brassicaceae, from the Indian Ocean island of Kerguelen
- Maori cabbage, the wild cabbage of New Zealand
- native cabbage (Scaevola koenigii), a succulent Australian shrub
- poor man's cabbage (Barbarea verna), a winter cress
- Saint-Patrick's cabbage (London pride, Saxifraga umbrosa), a hardy perennial saxifrage native to western Europe
- sea cabbage, also called sea kale, a European perennial herb (Crambe maritima) sometimes cultivated for its large, ovate, long-stalked leaves, used as a potherb (distinct from Brassica oleracea)
- skunk cabbage (fetid hellebore, meadow cabbage, polecat weed, skunkweed; stinking poke, swamp cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus or its relative Lysichiton camstschatcense) (the name is sometimes used for the pitcher plant)
- squaw cabbage (Indian lettuce, Montia perfoliata), a succulent herb; or any of various plants of the family Brassicaceae, especially of the genera Caulanthus and Streptanthus, believed to have been used as potherbs by the Indians
- water cabbage (Nymphaea odorata), a white water lily
- water lettuce (also called water cabbage, Pistia stratiotes), a common tropical floating plant forming a rosette of spongy, wedge-shaped leaves
- wild cabbage, a succulent herb (Caulanthus crassicaulis) of the family Brassicaceae that has edible foliage
- sea-otter's-cabbage (bladder kelp, sea turnip), a brown alga
Linguistic and vernacular associations
During World War II, "kraut" (cabbage) was a racial slur for a German soldier or civilian.
A thick-witted person may be called a cabbagehead. In Hebrew, the term "rosh kruv" (cabbagehead) implies stupidity.
The French use a term of endearment, "mon petit chou" (of a man/boy) or "ma petite chou" (of a woman/girl), equivalent to "darling" but translated literally as "my little cabbage" in school French textbooks in England since the late 1950s. This is still used today, as can be seen in this extract from Shamrocks Falling by P A Matthews:
- “See there ma petite chou, now everything is worked out.”
Patricia turned and walked back to the desk. “Gérard, why must you call me ma petite chou all the time?”
“Ma chérie, it is an endearment. If you understood that in French…”
She cut him off mid sentence. “I know what it means Gérard. Even with my limited French vocabulary I know that it means my small cabbage.”
''“But that is not the endearment. You do not understand…”
The word also refers, much more complimentarily, to a pâtisserie item called "chou à la crème", a sphere of light airy pastry split and sandwiched with a thick layer of whipped or confectioner's cream. In addition, it is also used for a soft, cabbage-shaped ornament or rosette of fabric used in women's wear, such as a knot of ribbons on a dress or a crushed crown on a hat. "Chou" comes from the Latin caulis (stalk).
In England, cabbage is rarely used slang for cash, especially paper money or bank notes. It is also used vulgarly for a person in a vegetative state, and by extension "cabbaging" means "lazing about".