Cabbage is part of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family and groups within it a large array of products. Although they are all related, many of them have a very different appearance and it is difficult to grasp those characteristics of similarity that instead unite them under the “genealogical” and nutritional aspect.
And they all also share an extraordinary gift: they are very good for the health of our body. To understand who we are facing and why the Brassicaceae family deserves the consideration that has accompanied it since the time of the ancient Egyptians, let’s find out what are the substances that make up “cabbages”.
Cabbage: what it is
Plants of the Brassicacae family , like cabbage, are characterized by a cruciform corolla , the presence of six stamens (the outer two shorter than the inner four) and an often septate capsule .
However, the taxonomic classification of Brassicaceae ( 338 genera and 3709 species ) is of great complexity and highly controversial.
The use of molecular biology techniques later helped to define the taxonomy of this large family more clearly. Here are some of the most popular cabbages.
Nutritional properties of cabbage
Crucifers, especially kale, are famous for being rich in nutrients: vitamin C, A, K and riboflavin , essential minerals (iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium), vitamin B6 and folate .
Additionally, kale is high in fiber and contains powerful antioxidants, including polyphenols and sulfur compounds.
A unique feature of cruciferous plants is their high content of glucosinolates , substances that have been studied extensively for their possible inhibitory activity of tumor genesis and growth.
Benefits for health
Cabbages are valuable for their nutrients and for the beneficial properties they allow us to enjoy.
Cabbages to combat obesity and micronutrient deficiencies
It is a valuable aid to counteract the phenomena related to obesity and unbalanced nutrition (micronutrient malnutrition). This is thanks to its nutritional density and the bioavailability of micronutrients.
Nutrient density is the measure of a food’s nutrients per calorie or unit of weight, while bioavailability is the amount of a nutrient actually absorbed and used for metabolic functions.
One serving of kale provides 10% of 17 essential nutrients.
In addition, they have substances that promote the absorption of nutrients such as:
- folic acid
- ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
- prebiotic carbohydrates
- sulfur-containing amino acids, which increase the absorption of iron and other minerals.
Improves digestion and bowel functioning
Insoluble fiber helps keep the digestive system healthy by adding bulk to the stool, thus promoting proper bowel functioning . But kale is also high in soluble fiber which increases the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
These bacteria perform important functions such as protecting the immune system and producing critical nutrients such as vitamins K2 and B12.
A chemoprotective agent
The intake of cabbage and broccoli has been shown to be useful in the prevention of breast and bladder cancer . The recommended dose to achieve this preventive effect is 2 servings per week: with this amount the risk of developing bladder cancer would decrease by 39%.
Those responsible for the anticancer properties of cabbage seem to be above all:
These favor the elimination of toxic substances and contribute to apoptosis , or programmed death, of cancer cells. Furthermore, isothiocyanates also contain sulforaphane . Its antitumor action is remarkable and is added to the bactericidal one against Helicobacter Pylori, a bacterium that can cause ulcer and can contribute to the onset of stomach cancer.
Many studies show that the substances contained in cabbage, in particular anthocyanins , help reduce the risk of heart disease .
Blood pressure ally
Doctors often advise patients with high blood pressure to reduce their intake of salt, a source of sodium.
Recent studies show that increasing the potassium level in the diet is just as important for lowering blood pressure . One of the tasks of potassium is in fact to help regulate blood pressure by counteracting the effects of sodium in the body.
A good consumption of kale, rich in potassium , helps to balance the sodium ratio in the body.
Red cabbage, in particular, is an excellent source of potassium (a whopping 300 mg per 100 g).
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
Crucifers, and therefore cabbages, contain many antioxidants that have the property of reducing chronic inflammation and oxidative stress .
This effect would be due to the presence of micronutrients, such as vitamin C, which in addition to helping the body absorb the iron present in food and strengthen the immune system , is a powerful antioxidant .
Among the antioxidants, cabbages also contain excellent amounts of flavonoids .
Folic acid and magnesium
As is typical of green vegetables – especially if leafy – It contains folic acid and magnesium .
The Magnesium contributes to normal energy metabolism and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, the normal functioning of the nervous and muscular systems.
Instead, folic acid , in addition to being essential during the first months of pregnancy, contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue and to the normal function of the immune system.
Migraine and premenstrual syndrome
It seems that the swede cabbage has the property of positively influencing the mood and that this characteristic can be of help in cases of migraine and premenstrual syndrome.
This characteristic derives from the important presence of magnesium, a mineral that has an antidepressant and calming action on the nervous system and is able to stimulate the production of serotonin , the good mood hormone.
Types of cabbage: the most common varieties
1 – Cabbage
It is a horticultural plant characterized by a root very thick and squat and a tubular stem low and thick, very hard, from which they develop numerous leaves expanded round .
The leaves, depending on the variety, can be smooth or wrinkled , green, red or purple , with a more or less evident central rib.
The leaves, with the development, close in on themselves, overlap one on the other in a compact way to form a rounded central cap , a “ball” of variable dimensions (from 15 to 80 centimeters in diameter).
The plant is biennial and has four stages during the vegetative cycle: the first is the rather rapid growth of the leaves which, in the second , are arranged in the classic ball formation.
A period of rest follows, during which the formation of the flower buds begins and, in the second year, yellow flowers and dark-colored rounded seeds appear .
Cabbage differs from savoy cabbage for the leaves which are smoother and for the cap, the edible part, which has more compact leaves.
2 – Kale
The cabbage and kale (in English ” Curly Kale “) belong to the species Brassica oleracea convar acephala , which includes all the cabbage that does not form the so-called “head” or “ball”, but which are cultivated for their leaves.
The two varieties are characterized by green leaves that branch directly from a central stem. The leaves are the edible part of the plant. Those of the black cabbage are dark green, lanceolate and divided, with a wrinkled and bullous surface.
The leaves of the kale range from deep green to light blue to purple and, as the name of the plant suggests, have a curled appearance.
The black cabbage plant is grown above all in Tuscany and is the fundamental ingredient for the preparation of the famous ” ribollita “: for this reason, black cabbage is also called Tuscan black cabbage. The leaves are made more tender and tastier by the first frosts, although it can be grown and consumed practically all year round.
The kale plant is the one that comes closest to wild kale. In Italy, kale is currently an almost forgotten and little cultivated vegetable. It is found almost only in Puglia , where it is called ” cole rizze ” and survives thanks to an ancient agricultural and gastronomic tradition.
The luck of kale, or kale, is linked to the fact that it has been classified among the ” superfoods “, that is, among those foods of plant origin that help us strengthen the immune system, prevent and combat many diseases and reduce the signs cellular aging.
3 – Chinese cabbage
Two distinct products belonging to the Brassicaeae family are commonly referred to with the name of Chinese cabbage, namely Peking Cabbage or “Pe-Tsai” (Brassica oleracea pekinensis Rupr.) And Chard cabbage called “Bok Choy” or “Pak Choi” (Brassica rapa chinensis).
They are both originally from China, and while they are not too similar, they are closely related.
The first, Peking Cabbage or “ Pe-Tsai ”, is also called Napa Cabbage . It is a large vegetable: in some varieties it can even exceed 2 kilograms in weight!
This type of cabbage is considered a cross between Pak Choi and turnip . It looks like a large head of romaine lettuce, but very compact. The leaves are long and are very adherent to each other, turgid but not too hard, green or light green.
Instead, the interior is almost white and its very thick ribs are silver-white. The central rib should be discarded when it is too stiff, but this should only be done for the outer leaves.
Of the cabbage chard , or Bok Choy or Pack Choi , the leaves with the large central ribs are consumed, which form an open head of medium-large size (can reach and exceed the weight of one kilogram), which resembles that of the chard .
It has dark green leaves, with evident ribs at the leaf plate, which in this type of Chinese cabbage is smooth. It is a very popular vegetable on Asian tables, but for some time it has also been available in Europe: it is grown mainly in the Netherlands .
The Chinese cabbage cultivation cycle lasts an average of 60 to 80 days. Shape and color of the flower are similar to those of other cabbages, the seed is formed immediately after the complete development of the leaves.
4 – The kohlrabi
The characteristic of kohlrabi is to have an edible stem , which is swollen into a ball , fleshy, similar to a large turnip , of which it also recalls the flavor. It is thought that it comes from northern Europe and is the fruit of the cross between wild cabbage and white turnip .
Its pale green leaves are lobed at the bottom. The petioles and the enlarged stem may have a greenish-white or purplish color. The pulp has a sweet flavor and is eaten both raw and cooked.
The two varieties of kohlrabi, the green and the violet , have the same nutritional qualities, with the difference that the violet, like all vegetables of this color, contains anthocyanins, substances known for their antioxidant qualities.
Kohlrabi, as well as carotenoids, is rich in glucosinolates, substances with an anticancer action: it contains four times more than cauliflower.
5 – The Navone cabbage
It seems to be the fruit of a cross between kohlrabi and autumn turnip . It is a biennial plant, which develops the basal turnip during the first year and then completes the maturation during the second year, when the flower and the bluish green leaves appear.
The thick rough rind of the “tuber ” has a yellow-green or reddish brown color. The pulp, on the other hand, can vary between white and yellow.
Turnip cabbages with yellow flesh can be eaten, while those with white flesh are grown as fodder.
This cabbage grows at ground level, usually ripens during the cold season and withstands low temperatures (up to -10 ° C). This feature makes it a classic winter vegetable. It can be stored for up to 6 months after harvest .
The nutritional properties of Swede cabbage are found under the skin, as thin as that of a potato, which surrounds this special vegetable.
It is rich in mineral salts, vitamin C and B vitamins (especially B1 and B6). It has excellent antioxidant properties, has a lot of fiber and very few calories.
Swede cabbage contains significantly more carbohydrates than other types of vegetables, as well as a considerable amount of vitamin B6, which can strengthen the nervous and immune systems.
The presence of minerals makes the swede an excellent tonic and an aid to strengthen the skeletal system, nails and teeth.
Contraindications of cabbage
It has no particular contraindications or side effects, except in the rare cases of hypersensitivity to Brassicaceae.
In case of gastrointestinal pathologies, moderate consumption may be recommended in order not to aggravate particular disorders such as:
- abdominal bloating.
Some anti-nutritional factors typical of Brassicaceae could limit the absorption of some substances . Cabbages, especially when eaten raw, increase the need for iodine, disturbing its metabolism.
These foods, called goiters , should therefore be consumed in moderation in case of hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency.
In the case of Chinese cabbages , subjects who are on blood anticoagulants must pay greater attention to their consumption due to the high content of vitamin k, which can interfere by reducing the effectiveness of the drug. In fact, foods rich in vitamin K do not necessarily have to be eliminated from the diet, but it is sufficient to consume them moderately and above all in constant quantities over time.
How to store cabbage
After purchase, it is best to store the cabbage in the special drawer of the refrigerator , preferably wrapped in plastic film for food.
Keeping it cold allows you not to disperse the nutrients and to keep it crunchy. It can thus be kept in good condition for a maximum of two weeks.
Better keep whole until you decide to use it, because any cut alters the characteristics and makes it lose vitamin C . If you can’t avoid cutting it, it’s best to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for no more than two days.
Cabbage buying guide
Cabbage and savoy cabbage
If you want to buy head cabbages , whether they are red or green, it is best to choose those with a bright color when buying . Cabbages must not show external opacities, but they must be shiny and sparkling . Tasting them to the touch they must be firm and with firm leaves , not soft but crunchy . In cabbage the leaves may be less adherent but they must still be turgid . Excessive softness could indicate an old age of the product or internal rot.
The color must also be homogeneous and not show stains, fading marks or black spots. These characteristics indicate the presence of parasites inside .
The size of the cabbage has its own importance. Larger cabbages have a less strong flavor than smaller ones . The aggressive flavor is also tempered if the cabbage has been harvested after a frost, because it will be sweeter when consumed.
At the time of purchase, the Peking Cabbage must be compact, have well-adherent and firm leaves. To be considered fresh, the tufts must not have spots on the edges of the leaves, which instead must be slightly opaque and moist but turgid. In addition, it must be crunchy when cut.
The Bok Choi must have bright silvery white ribs and the texture of the leaves must be soft but not wilted. Fresh Chinese chard should be uniform in color, with no signs of discoloration or stains.
Kohlrabi and Navone cabbage
Kohlrabi is a vegetable that is rarely encountered on the sales counters, and Navone Cabbage is even more difficult to find. To buy them, you must first of all know how to recognize them and know how to evaluate their state of freshness, even if they have a long shelf life.
When buying kohlrabi and swede it is good to always make sure that the bulbs are firm and solid. If possible, choose the purple kohlrabi: the flavor is not different from the other type, but the purple one has more glucosinolates.
Cabbage: alternative uses
Cabbage is also used as a skin regenerator . It forms the basis for the preparation of ointments and creams that make the skin radiant and pure.
Cabbage juice as a natural cleanser
The juice of cabbage is a natural cleanser pretty good. Use it for some time and you will find what clean and glowing skin it can give! To best cleanse your face, prepare 50 grams of cabbage, wash and centrifuge them until the juice is completely extracted . At this point pass the liquid on the skin, let it dry and rinse.
DIY firming mask
The firming regenerating mask, rigorously “do it yourself” and based on cabbage is also very generous in results . It is enough to finely chop the leaves of the vegetable and apply the resulting mush directly on the previously cleansed face and neck. Keep the mixture on your face for at least 20 minutes … guaranteed results!
Relief against tired eyes
Cabbage is used to relieve tired eyes . After a day at the computer, for example, you can moisten gauze or cotton pads with fresh cabbage juice and leave it on your eyes for about 15 minutes . The effect is amazing!
For all natural remedies, in case of sensitive or allergic skin, ask your average person for advice before use.
Breast health while breastfeeding
The leaves applied breastfeeding are a natural therapy to cure the ‘ breast engorgement . Breast engorgement is almost always caused by an accumulation of milk that occurs when the baby does not suckle an adequate amount.
The result is that the delicate sacs (alveoli) that contain the milk break and the milk flows into the breast tissue, which swells, becomes inflamed and painful.
Cabbage: uses in cooking
Cabbage in all its variations is a versatile food, which can be cooked in many different ways:
However, to keep all the nutrients, it is preferable to cooking steam . It is sufficient to cook the cabbage for 5 minutes and then season it to taste or use it for the preparation of other dishes.
An alternative method of consuming cabbage is in the form of juice . It is easily prepared thanks to the centrifuge and is an excellent detoxifier .
The kale flour
From black cabbage it is possible to obtain a flour to be used for the preparation of particular dishes with beneficial properties for health. It is obtained from the processing of dried leaves and is very versatile in the kitchen. It can be combined in a proportion of 5% with the dough of bread or pizza to which it gives a completely original flavor.
It can also be used in addition to soups and soups , but also in the preparation of juices or fruit and vegetable extracts when fresh vegetables are not available.
How to enjoy Kale
The curly one can be eaten sautéed in a pan, steamed, in soups and stews, as chips and in salads. In any case, it must be seasoned in advance (about ten minutes) with oil and an acid ingredient , lemon juice or vinegar, which helps to soften the fibers of the leaves, making them more digestible.
The kale leaves boiled and seasoned with raw oil are accompanied by the bean puree . Broad beans and “cole rizze” was the typical dish of the farmers: a dish that was also eaten cold and which was sometimes eaten as a snack during working hours in the fields.
In salads, kale pairs beautifully with fresh and dried fruit and sweet ingredients such as carrots or even cocoa.
The recipes with cabbage
Cabbage is also an ingredient in many typical recipes. Among these, the Lombard Cassoeula, the Pizzoccheri Valtellinesi or the “sour cabbage” ( sauerkraut ), which is prepared through a process of fermentation of the cabbage, very common in Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli.
But it can be used in so many different dishes. In first courses , it is a tasty condiment for pasta and risotto and an excellent base for soups , perhaps in combination with legumes; it is a tasty side dish and is also excellent raw , combined with fruit and fish to prepare tasty salads . Also ideal as a filling for savory pies or as a base for delicious flans: very tasty au gratin in the oven with bechamel and parmesan. It also goes very well with meats, both white and red , for example to accompany stews, strips and rolls .
Another tip is to roast the chopped cabbage leaves with extra virgin olive oil , a pinch of black pepper and a chopped head of garlic: a quick and easy way to enjoy this precious vegetable.
Let’s see some of the recipes that can be prepared with the main varieties of cabbage.
1 – Kale chips
An original and tasty idea are the ” chips ” of cabbage, black, cabbage or curly . To prepare them, just cut the cabbage leaves into thin strips, salt them, steam them with extra virgin olive oil, place them in the oven on a baking sheet (with parchment paper) and cook them for about 10 minutes at 200 ° C.
2 – Stir-fried and raw Peking cabbage
The Beijing Cabbage is very tasty stir-fry over high heat with garlic and chilli. This is a good way to keep it crunchy and tasty, perhaps accompanying it with seasonal aromatic herbs.
Even raw it is delicate and tasty: in salads, cut into thin strips and simply seasoned with salt, white pepper, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, it is perfect to accompany rather fatty dishes to which it provides the right balance of freshness and flavor.
3 – Peking cabbage leaves, perfect for wraps
The elongated shape and meaty texture of the Peking cabbage leaves are perfect for making rolls, both meat and fish. Chinese cabbage is also very suitable for preparations in oil, or simply marinated.
4 – Chard cabbage for soups and broths
The chard cabbage is most used in soups and soups, but it can also be used in the preparation of appetizers and, possibly, it can also be eaten raw. To eat it “nature” just wash it, peel it and cut it into slices. If you prefer to cook it, you have to remove the leaves and stems. If the rind is particularly thick, you can remove it by peeling it with a knife.
5 – Swede cabbage: like a potato
The swede cabbage has the consistency of the potato and the taste of turnips and cabbages. You can peel it, cut it into small pieces and use it raw to make a salad. If, on the other hand, you let it simmer for about forty minutes, it is excellent as a side dish. Accompanied by different sauces, it goes especially well with fish dishes.
The recipes to enhance the taste are the same as for potatoes: it is delicious cut and baked in the oven as chips, sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, cooked in the oven with bechamel or other vegetables, served in sweet and sour or raw in salad.
6 – Tuscan Ribollita
The edible part of black cabbage is mainly represented by the leaves deprived of the stem, which are used for numerous recipes. In Italy it is used to prepare minestrone, bruschetta, risotto and the typical Tuscan ribollita, a soup that is prepared exclusively with black cabbage, often combined with beans to which croutons are added.
The history of cabbage
The Brassicaceae family, or Cruciferae, has a long history. It is documented that the ancient Greeks, Romans, Indians and Chinese already used and highly appreciated these vegetables.
The Romans used them to treat diseases and with the crushed leaves they healed ulcerations and wounds .
During the long voyages to discover new lands, this vegetable was used, together with citrus fruits, as a food to combat scurvy on ships , caused by the lack of vitamin C of which cabbages are rich.
It was also for this reason that the Spanish colonizers brought and planted cabbages in the New World: to ensure the essential supplies against scurvy on the return journeys from the American continent.