Cabbage has been in cultivation for 3,000 years or so, but the cabbage as we know it today is a comparatively recent development, probably dating from the Middle Ages. Cabbage can be found growing in the wild throughout Europe, from Britain to Spain, but the wild form is more akin to broccoli than the hearted varieties with which we are now familiar.
Cabbages come in various forms, mainly depending on the time of year they are harvested – spring, summer, autumn and winter varieties (self-evidently named). These are all hearting cabbages, although spring cabbage is also available as “greens,” which are loose heads of green leaves unlike the typical tight heads of blanched leaves. There are also a few other winter varieties, which are sometimes considered separately, such as the savoys (with their distinctive, crinkly leaves,) hybrids between the savoy and winter cabbages and ‘January King.’ The most distinctive of this group of cabbages is the red cabbage.
Some people have been put off cabbage by having to eat overcooked leaves, but it has remained a staple winter vegetable in country areas, and nowadays it is enjoying a revival in popularity as people and chefs increasingly appreciate its culinary potential.
Like broccoli, cauliflower, collards and kale, cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable. Eating different types of cabbage — green cabbage, red cabbage, Savoy cabbage or bok choy — boosts your intake of vitamin C and other important nutrients. If you don’t enjoy raw cabbage, you can serve it steamed, boiled or stir-fried.
If you’re watching your intake of calories, fat or cholesterol, cabbage is a great food choice. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a half-cup of raw cabbage has 10 calories, 0 grams of fat and 0 milligrams of cholesterol. The same amount of cooked cabbage has 15 calories and no fat or cholesterol.
Cabbage is also relatively low in both carbohydrates and protein. A half-cup serving of raw cabbage has 2 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber and 0 grams of protein. That same serving size of cooked cabbage has 3 grams of carbohydrates, no fiber and 1 gram of protein. By adding ham, sausage or tofu, you can increase the protein content of a cabbage dish.
You can help cabbage retain its nutritional value by following a few simple guidelines. Buy whole heads of cabbage rather than shredded cabbage, as shredded cabbage may have lost its vitamin C. Store the cabbage in sealed plastic in the refrigerator. Don’t wash, cut or shred the cabbage until right before you’re ready to use it.