Cabbage is a cold, hardy vegetable crop that belongs to the Brassica family that also includes broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Depending on the variety, cabbage heads can be round, flat or conical in shape and come in shades of green or reddish-purple. The leaves are usually smooth, except for Savoy cabbage which has tender, wrinkled leaves that make great cabbage rolls.
Green and red cabbages are harvested in two seasons; in summer, cabbage heads are looser and more tender and in winter, cabbage heads have dense, tightly compact leaves. Summer cabbage is traditionally eaten within weeks of harvest, but winter cabbage can be stored under the right conditions for up to 10 months.
In Canada, we also grow varieties of Taiwanese and Nappa (or Chinese) cabbage.
How to Buy:
Look for firm, relatively heavy heads. The cabbage leaves should be fairly crisp, without blemishes, insect bites or signs of wilting along the edges of the leaves.
How to Store:
Cabbage can last three weeks to two months in your refrigerator and even longer in a root cellar. Do not wash cabbage until just prior to using it. Unless wilted, loose or damaged by insects, leave the outer leaves on the head and clip the cabbage stem relatively short. Cabbage likes humidity so wrap the head in a damp paper towel. Place it in a perforated plastic bag (which you may purchase or make yourself by using a hole punch to create about 20 holes in a plastic bag) in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator.
Cooked cabbage that is refrigerated is best used within 4-5 days as it will begin to develop a strong flavour and odor.
Cut the cabbage into coarse shreds and blanch for 2 minutes in boiling water. Remove from heat, drain, and chill. Pack the blanched, shredded cabbage into airtight containers and freeze up to one year. Once thawed, the frozen cabbage will only work well in cooked applications.
How to Prepare:
Sulfur compounds in cabbage are activated during the heating process, so to minimize the strong smell when cooking it, avoid using aluminum cookware and try sprinkling it with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar. Using stainless steel knives and cookware and adding an acidic ingredient to red cabbage will prevent it from turning blue or grey.
Rinse cabbage and remove outside leaves. Cabbage may be consumed raw and shredded in coleslaw, or used in soups and stews. Chopped cabbage is a welcome addition to stir-fry dishes. Cabbage rolls are a popular comfort food made by steaming the leaves and wrapping them around meat or other fillings.
Sauerkraut is raw cabbage that has been cut finely and fermented. In addition to being a popular accessory for sausages and hotdogs, sauerkraut is also served as a side dish, a perogy filling or ingredient in soup. Kimchi is a Korean dish made from fermented cabbage and various other vegetables and seasonings.
Half a cup (125 mL) of cooked cabbage will supply about one-third of your daily vitamin C requirement. It also provides fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A and K, and a good dose of well-known antioxidants and cell-protecting phytonutrients. Cabbage contains glucosinolates, which are linked to lowering cancer risk based on consumption. Eating lots of cabbage may also protect the eyes from macular degeneration. Cabbage is very high in fiber which is known to improve digestion, lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and aid in weight control.
The fermentation process associated with sauerkraut and kimchi creates natural probiotics that promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut which aid in digestion and help you metabolize nutrients.
How They Are Grown:
Because of its cold hardy nature, cabbages can be grown across most Canadian provinces but over half of our crop comes from the two provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Cabbage is a cool season crop that doesn’t mind lower temperatures but needs adequate amounts of water so fields are often irrigated to help the heads grow to optimal size. Cabbages can be grown from seed or as transplanted seedlings which are started in greenhouses. Seedlings are ideal for areas of the country with shorter growing seasons because the cabbage has as much time as possible to mature.
Cabbage harvest is labour intensive as it needs to be picked by hand to reduce the chance of damaging the head. Extra or damaged outer leaves are trimmed off. The summer cabbage varieties are picked earlier than the longer storage winter cabbage varieties. Cabbage is often packaged in the field and transferred to refrigerated storage before being shipped to the grocery store.
Canadian Crop is Available:
- Green & Red: July – March
- Savoy: July – December
- Nappa: Oct – December
Grown in: Cabbage is grown across the country, but the majority of commercial production comes from Ontario (33%), Quebec (22%), and British Columbia (6%).
For More Information:
- Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association
- BC Vegetable Marketing Association
- Horticulture Nova Scotia
- Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
- Saskatchewan Vegetable Growers Association
- Quebec Produce Growers Association