Modern cabbages in the genus Brassica are descended from leafy wild mustard plants native to the Mediterranean seacoast. Used both for eating and edible ornamental landscaping, cabbages are usually classified as either regular head cabbage (B. oleracea var capitate) or Chinese, sometimes called Napa, cabbage (B. campestris var. pekinensis). Both consist of leaves layered one upon another to form a ball. While head cabbages are usually quite compact and round, Napa cabbages are typically looser and may be either cylindrical or round, resembling a tighter head of romaine lettuce.
Cultivated for centuries in China, the plant’s popularity across Europe may be attributable to the Celts, who brought the plant back from invasions into Asia Minor, eventually passing it on to the conquering Romans. The Romans spread cabbage farther although it wasn’t introduced to America until much later when Europeans and colonists brought it to the New World.
Napa cabbage has a milder taste than regular green head cabbage and is often used for soups, pickling, stir fry, or egg rolls. Head cabbage is used in a variety of dishes like coleslaw and sauerkraut and has become one of the world’s most popular vegetables particularly in Russia, Poland, and Germany.
References: Cornell University, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Website, UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, Western Growers Association.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
About 45% of cabbage is used in processing to make coleslaw. Fresh cabbage sold by the head makes up more than a third of the market, followed by sauerkraut and other uses. While there are hundreds of cabbage varieties, the four primary types are green, red, Savoy, and Tuscan.
Green cabbage includes both regular head cabbage and Chinese or Napa cabbage types including a variety of Asian cabbages. With smooth, dark to pale green outer leaves, the inner leaves of green cabbage tend to be white. Green head cabbage can be classified as Danish, domestic, or pointed. Danish heads are round, solid, and compact. Domestic are also round, but the leaves are less compact and grow a looser head. Pointed are smaller and more conical in both leaves and the overall head.
Asian green cabbage types are harder to pin down as various regions and markets name them differently. Most types include the word “choy,” which is a generic word for vegetable. These Chinese cabbages include bok choy, choy sum, gai choy, and Napa cabbage.
Red cabbage differs from green mostly in its red to purple outer leaves that are streaked with white on the inside. It has a flavor similar to that of green cabbage, but leaves may have a tougher texture and are higher in Vitamin C.
Savoy cabbage is distinguished by its attractive crinkled leaves and mild flavor. Savoy is commonly used for coleslaw and salads. Leaves are yellow-green and the head is not as compact as other cabbage types.
Tuscan cabbage is somewhat new to the United States and may be harder to find. Its dark green, white-ribbed leaves have a mild flavor and heads tend to be longer and narrower than other cabbage types.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Cornell University, University of California Berkeley, University of Illinois Extension.
PESTS & DISEASE
Pests of concern for cabbage are mites, diamondback moths, loopers, aphids, root maggots, beet armyworms, webworms, cutworms, mole crickets, silverleaf whiteflies, flea beetles, slugs, and nematodes.
Diseases common to cabbage are black rot, downy mildew, alternaria leaf spot, damping-off, turnip mosaic, wirestem, cabbage yellows, clubroot, purple blotch, yellow or fusarium wilt, watery soft rot, and gray mold.
References: Cornell University, UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Illinois Extension.