Samui Wining & Dining
Cabbage - It’s not Just a Stinky Vegetable

Sixty-nine million metric tons can’t be wrong.



         When you think of cabbage, what do you think of? Coleslaw? Sauerkraut? Sunday roasts? I mean, let’s face it; cabbage doesn’t exactly have a fantastic reputation as being the most appealing of vegetables. It’s closely related to broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and we all know how we feel about them. The pungent smell of boiled cabbage could easily frighten your worst enemies away. So let’s see what this vegetable is all about.

         Well, firstly, most of us know what a cabbage actually looks like. They can be smooth and white (this is the most common and called, somewhat surprisingly, ‘smooth leafed green cabbage’), green and crinkle-leafed (savoy cabbage), or smooth and purple (red cabbage). Cabbages are classed as a ‘multi-layered’ vegetable.

         Its fancy name is ‘brassica oleracea’ and the original species has evolved over thousands of years to what we see today. The original name of brassicas was ‘cruciferae’, which came from the flower petal pattern that was thought to resemble a crucifix. The word ‘brassica’ comes from the Celtic word ‘bresic’ which means, yes, you guessed it, cabbage. Throughout the centuries, the word cabbage has been used to describe a multitude of

things - ‘Cabbage-head’ means a stupid person and to be ‘cabbaged’ means to be exhausted.

         The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations reported that in 2011, the world production of cabbage (and other brassicas) was almost 69 million metric tons. You might be surprised to discover that almost half of these were actually grown in China, where Chinese cabbage is the most popular brassica vegetable. China produced over 31 million tons to claim their spot in first place, and India trailed behind in second place with ‘only’ eight million tons. America is in tenth place with just under a million, and Thailand does not even feature in the top ten.

      Cabbage only requires three months of growing time, so one acre of cabbage will yield more edible vegetables than any other plant. The largest cabbage ever grown weighed in at a massive 55 kilograms. Credit for that achievement went to an Englishman in England, in 1865.

      Cabbage consumption is another story, and this time Russia tops the list with the highest annual per capita consumption at 20 kilograms, followed by Belgium at 4.7 kilograms. While Germany, so famous for their sauerkraut, strangely don’t even feature in the top five.

      Cabbage is extremely versatile, and can be pickled, stewed, stewed, boiled, braised, fermented (such as sauerkraut) or eaten raw. Pickling is one of the most popular ways of preserving cabbage. The British dish of bubble and squeak is made primarily with boiled cabbage and salt beef. And in Poland, cabbage is one of the main food crops. Bean curd and cabbage is a staple of Chinese cooking, and many European countries, such as Hungary and Rumania, have traditional dishes that feature cabbage as a main ingredient. It’s used in spicy salads in India and Ethiopia, and in America it is used mainly in the much-loved coleslaw.

      Cabbage is actually quite nutritious, and is a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C and dietary fibre. It is also high in manganese, vitamin B6 and folate, and moderately high in vitamin B3, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin A, protein and magnesium. Brassicas reputedly reduce the risk of some cancers, and this is thought to be to do a component which stimulates the production of enzymes that remove carcinogens (cancer causing enzymes). Red cabbage also has various components which, in other vegetables, have shown to have anti-carcinogenic properties. Boiling, however, reduces these properties.

         As with any vegetable, there are hundreds of stories of medicinal lore which are sometimes, but not always, backed up by scientific proof. The ancient Greeks recommended cabbage as a laxative, ancient Romans recommended it for curing hangovers, and ancient Egyptians ate cooked cabbage at the beginning of their meals to reduce the intoxicating effect of their wine.

         The cooling properties of the leaves were used in Britain during World War One as a treatment for trench foot. It was also used as compresses for ulcers and abscesses. Scientific evidence even says that cabbage leaf treatment can increase the duration of breast feeding. European folk medicine includes treatments for sore throat, colic, melancholy, and rheumatism. In America, it has been used to prevent sunstroke, or to cool the body. Mashed cabbage and cabbage juice have been used in poultices to remove boils and treat warts, or even pneumonia.

         Cooking cabbage is very easy, and if you think boiling it is the only way, think again. Steaming and stir-frying is best, and preserves all those healthy nutrients. Only when cabbage is overcooked and hydrogen sulphide gas is produced, does it give off its tell-tale stinky smell.

         Here are some ideas for your next cabbage purchase:

         Simmer sliced cabbage until just tender with a pinch of salt added. Drain and toss in butter, grated parmesan and cracked pepper. Or try sautéing sliced red cabbage with butter, chopped onions, sliced dried apricots, and balsamic vinegar. Or slice cabbage and add to miso broth with cubed tofu, sliced green onions, sliced shitake mushrooms and drizzle with sesame oil.

         And if you’ve ever been called, ‘mon chou’ or ‘mon petit chou’ by a French person, it is a term of endearment, equivalent to ‘darling’ but translated as ‘my little cabbage’. Whatever turns you on!

         You see, cabbage needn’t be boring at all.


Colleen Setchell


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