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Cabbage and cross section on white.jpg
Cabbage and its cross section
SpeciesBrassica oleracea
Cultivar groupCapitata Group
OriginBritain and continental Europe, prior to 1000 BC
Cultivar group members

White cabbage (capitata var. alba L.)
Red cabbage (capitata f. rubra)

Savoy cabbage (capitata var. sabauda L.)
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Cabbage and cross section on white.jpg
Cabbage and its cross section
SpeciesBrassica oleracea
Cultivar groupCapitata Group
OriginBritain and continental Europe, prior to 1000 BC
Cultivar group members

White cabbage (capitata var. alba L.)
Red cabbage (capitata f. rubra)

Savoy cabbage (capitata var. sabauda L.)

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea or variants) is a leafy green biennial, grown as an annual vegetable for its dense-leaved heads. Closely related to other cole crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, it descends from B. oleracea var. oleracea, a wild field cabbage. Cabbage heads generally range from 1 to 8 pounds (0.5 to 4 kg), and can be green, purple and white. Smooth-leafed firm-headed green cabbages are the most common, with smooth-leafed red and crinkle-leafed savoy cabbages of both colors seen more rarely.

It is difficult to trace the exact history of cabbage, but it was most likely domesticated somewhere in Europe before 1000 BC. By the Middle Ages, it was a prominent part of European cuisine, although savoys were not developed until the 16th century. Cabbage heads are generally picked during the first year of the plants' life cycles, but those intended for seed are allowed to grow a second year, and must be kept separated from other cole crops to prevent cross pollination. Cabbage is prone to several nutrient deficiencies, as well as multiple pests, bacteria and fungal diseases.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that world production of cabbage and other brassicas (these plants are combined by the FAO for reporting purposes) for calendar year 2010 was almost 58,000,000 metric tons (57,000,000 long tons; 64,000,000 short tons). Almost half were grown in China. Cabbages are prepared in many different ways for eating, although pickling, in dishes such as sauerkraut, is the most popular. Cabbage is a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and fiber. Cabbage when contaminated is sometimes a source of food-borne illness in humans.


Taxonomy and etymology[edit]

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea or B. oleracea var. capitata,[1] var. tuba, and var. sabauda[2]) is a member of the Brassica genus and the Brassicaceae (mustard) family. Several other cole crops are considered varieties of B. oleracea, including broccoli, collard greens, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and sprouting broccoli. All of these developed from the wild cabbage B. oleracea var. oleracea, also called colewart or field cabbage. This original subspecies evolved over thousands of years into those seen today, as selection resulted in varieties having different characteristics, such as large heads for cabbage, large leaves for kale and thick stems with flower buds for broccoli.[1][3] B. oleracea var. acephala is another trinomial synonym for cabbage.[4] B. oleracea and its derivatives have hundreds of common names throughout the world.[5]

The original family name of brassicas was Cruciferae, which derived from the flower petal pattern thought by medieval Europeans to resemble a crucifix.[6] The word brassica derives from bresic, a Celtic word for cabbage.[7] The late Middle English word cabbage derives from the word caboche, meaning "head", from the Picard dialect of Old French. This in turn is a variant of the Old French caboce.[8] "Cabbage" was originally used to refer to multiple B. oleracea varieties, including those with loose or non-existent heads.[7] Through the centuries, "cabbage" and its derivatives have been used as slang for numerous items, occupations and activities. Cash and tobacco have both been described by the slang "cabbage", while "cabbage-head" means a fool or stupid person and "cabbaged" means to be exhausted or, vulgarly, in a vegetative state. Several slang meanings of cabbage relate to tailoring, with "cabbage contractor" having the 19th-century meaning of a tailor, while at the same time small scraps of material sold by tailors were called "cabbage".[9] "Cabbagetown" is slang in Canadian English for an urban area in run-down condition, and derives from Cabbagetown, Toronto, where the residents were said to eat nothing but cabbage.[8] "Cabbage" is also a part of common names for several unrelated species. These include cabbage bark or cabbage tree (a member of the Andira genus) and cabbage palm, which includes several genera of palm such as Mauritia, Roystonea oleracea, Acrocomia and Euterpe oenocarpus.[10][11]


Green and purple cabbages

Cabbage seedlings have a thin taproot and cordate (heart-shaped) cotyledons. The first leaves produced are ovate (egg-shaped) with a lobed petiole. Plants are 40–60 cm (16–24 in) tall in their first year at the mature vegetative stage, and 1.5–2.0 m (4.9–6.6 ft) tall when flowering in the second year.[12] Heads average between 1 and 8 pounds (0.5 and 4 kg), with earlier varieties producing smaller heads.[13] Most cabbages have thick, alternating leaves, with margins that range from wavy or lobed to highly dissected; some varieties have a waxy bloom on the leaves. Plants have root systems that are fibrous and shallow.[6] About 90 percent of the root mass is in the upper 20–30 cm (7.9–12 in) of soil, although some lateral roots can penetrate up to 2 m (6.6 ft) deep.[12]

The inflorescence is an unbranched and indeterminate terminal raceme measuring 50–100 cm (20–39 in),[12] with flowers that are yellow or white. Each flower has four petals set in a perpendicular pattern, as well as four sepals, six stamens, and a superior ovary that is two-celled and contains a single stigma and style. Two of the six stamens have shorter filaments. The fruit is a silique that opens at maturity through dehiscence to reveal brown or black seeds that are small and round in shape. Self-pollination is impossible, and plants are cross-pollinated by insects.[6] The initial leaves form a rosette shape comprising 7 to 15 leaves, each measuring 25–35 cm (9.8–14 in) by 20–30 cm (7.9–12 in);[12] after this, leaves with shorter petioles develop and heads form through the leaves cupping inward.[2]

Many shapes, colors and leaf textures are found in various cabbage varieties. Leaf types are generally divided between crinkled-leaf, loose-head savoys and smooth-leaf firm-head cabbages, while the color spectrum includes white and a range of greens and purples. Oblate, round and pointed shapes are found.[14]

Cabbage has been selectively bred for head weight and morphological characteristics, frost hardiness, fast growth and storage ability. The appearance of the cabbage head has been given importance in selective breeding, with varieties being chosen for shape, color, firmness and other physical characteristics.[15] Breeding objectives are now focused on increasing resistance to various insects and diseases and improving the nutritional content of cabbage.[16] Scientific research into the genetic modification of B. oleracea crops, including cabbage, has included European Union and United States explorations of greater insect and herbicide resistance. However, genetically modified B. oleracea crops are not currently used in commercial agriculture.[17]


Although cabbage has an extensive history, it is difficult to trace its exact origins owing to the many varieties of leafy greens classified as "brassicas".[18] The wild ancestor of cabbage was originally found in Britain and continental Europe. It was probably domesticated later in history than Near East crops such as peas and summer wheat. Because of the wide range of crops developed from the wild B. oleracea, multiple domestications of cabbage may have occurred in the same time period throughout Europe. Nonheading cabbages and kale were probably the first to be domesticated, sometime before 1000 BC, and the Greeks and Romans had some variety of cabbage, although whether it was more closely related to today's cabbage or to one of the other Brassica crops is unknown.[19] The Greeks and Romans claimed medicinal usages for their cabbage variety that included relief from gout, headaches and the symptoms of poisonous mushroom ingestion.[20] Rounded cabbages made a definite appearance during the Dark Ages, and illustrations show their prominence in the cuisine of the Middle Ages.[18] French naturalist Jean Ruel made what is considered the first mention of head cabbage in his 1536 botanical treatise De Natura Stirpium, referring to it as capucos coles ("head-stem").[21] Cabbages spread from Europe into Mesopotamia and Egypt, and later followed trade routes throughout Asia and the Americas.[19]

During the 16th century, German gardeners developed the savoy cabbage.[22] During the 17th and 18th centuries, cabbage was a food staple in such countries as Germany, England, Ireland and Russia, and pickled cabbage was frequently seen.[23] Saurkraut was used by Dutch sailors to prevent scurvy during long ship voyages.[24] Jacques Cartier first brought cabbage to the Americas in 1541–42, and it was probably planted in what is now the United States by the early colonists, despite the lack of written evidence of its existence there until the mid-17th century. By the 18th century, it was commonly planted by both colonists and native American Indians.[7] Cabbage seeds traveled to Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet, and were planted the same year on Norfolk Island. It became a favorite vegetable of Australians by the 1830s and was frequently seen at the Sydney Markets.[22]

There are several Guinness Book of World Records records related to cabbage. These include the heaviest cabbage, at 57.61 kilograms (127.0 lb),[25] heaviest red cabbage, at 19.05 kilograms (42.0 lb),[26] longest cabbage roll, at 15.37 metres (50.4 ft),[27] and the largest cabbage dish, at 925.4 kilograms (2,040 lb).[28] In 2012, Scott Robb of Palmer, Alaska, broke the world record for heaviest cabbage at 138.25 pounds (62.71 kg).[29]


Cabbage is generally grown for its densely leaved heads, produced during the first year of its biennial cycle. Plants perform best when grown in well-drained soil in a location that receives full sun. Different varieties prefer different soil types, ranging from lighter sand to heavier clay, but all prefer fertile ground with a pH of between 6.0 and 6.8. Temperatures of between 40 and 75 °F (4 and 24 °C) prompt the best growth, and extended periods of higher or lower temperatures may result in premature bolting (flowering).[30] Plants are generally started in protected locations early in the growing season before being transplanted outside, although some are seeded directly into the ground from which they will be harvested. Growers normally place plants 12 to 24 inches (30 to 61 cm) apart. Some varieties of cabbage have been developed for ornamental use, these are generally called "flowering cabbage". They do not produce heads and feature purple or green outer leaves surrounding an inner grouping of smaller leaves in white, red, or pink.[13]

When being grown for seed, cabbages must be isolated from other B. oleracea subspecies, including the wild varieties, by .5 to 1 mile (0.80 to 1.6 km) to prevent cross pollination. Other Brassica species, such as B. rapa, B. juncea, B. nigra, B. napus and Raphanus sativus, do not easily cross-pollinate.[31]


White cabbage

There are several cultivars of cabbage, each including many varieties:

Some sources only delineate three cultivars: savoy, red and white, with spring greens and green cabbage being subsumed into the latter.[32]

Cultivation problems[edit]

Cabbage moth damage to a savoy

Due to its high level of nutrient requirements, cabbage is prone to nutrient deficiencies, including boron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium.[30]

Fungal diseases include wirestem, which causes weak or dying transplants; Fusarium yellows, which cause stunted and twisted plants with yellow leaves; and blackleg (see Leptosphaeria maculans), which causes sunken areas on stems and gray-brown spotted leaves.[33] The fungi Alternaria brassicae and A. brassicicola cause dark leaf spots in affected plants. They are both seedborne and airborne, and typically propagate from spores in infected plant debris left on the soil surface for up to twelve weeks after harvest. Rhizoctonia solani causes the post-emergence disease wirestem, resulting in killed seedlings ("damping-off"), root rot, or stunted growth and smaller heads.[34]

Bacterial diseases include black rot, caused by Xanthomonas campestris, which causes cholorotic and necrotic lesions that start at the leaf margins, and wilting of plants. Clubroot, caused by the soilborne slime mold-like organism Plasmodiophora brassicae, results in swollen, club-like roots. A parasitic disease downy mildew, caused by the oomycete Peronospora parasitica,[34] produces pale leaves with white, brownish or olive mildew on the lower leaf surfaces; this is often confused with the fungal powdery mildew.[33]

Pests include root-knot nematodes and cabbage maggots, which cause stunted and wilted plants with yellow leaves; aphids, which cause stunted plants with curled and yellow leaves; harlequin bugs, which cause white and yellow leaves; thrips, which cause leaves with white-bronze spots; striped flea beetles, which riddle leaves with small holes; and caterpillars, which leave behind large, ragged holes in leaves.[33] The caterpillar stage of the "small cabbage white butterfly" (Pieris rapae), commonly known as the "imported cabbage worm", is a major cabbage pest in most countries. The large white butterfly (Pieris brassicae) is prevalent in eastern European countries. The diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) and the cabbage moth (Mamestra brassicae) thrive in the higher summer temperatures of continental Europe, where they cause considerable damage to cabbage crops. Destructive soil insects include the cabbage root fly (Delia radicum) and the cabbage maggot (Hylemya brassicae), whose larvae can burrow into the part of plant consumed by humans.[35]

Planting near other members of the cabbage family, or where these plants have been placed in previous years, can prompt the spread of pests and disease.[30] Excessive water and excessive heat can also cause cultivation problems.[33]


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that world production of cabbage and other brassicas (these plants being combined by the FAO for reporting purposes) for calendar year 2010 was 57,966,986 metric tons (57,051,486 long tons; 63,897,664 short tons). This was primarily grown in China (43 percent) and India (11 percent).[36]

Top ten cabbage and other brassica producers — 2010[36]
CountryProduction (tonnes)Source
 People's Republic of China25,156,578FAO estimate
 India6,356,800official figure
 Russia2,732,510official figure
 Japan2,247,700official figure
 South Korea2,035,700official figure
 Ukraine1,497,400official figure
 Indonesia1,384,660official figure
 Poland1,141,200official figure
 United States1,034,050official figure
 Romania983,648official figure

Cabbages sold for fresh market are generally smaller, and different varieties are used for those sold immediately upon harvest and those stored before sale. Those used for processing, especially sauerkraut, are larger and have a lower percentage of water.[14] Both hand and mechanical harvesting are used, with hand-harvesting generally used for cabbages destined for fresh market sales. Field packing of hand-harvested cabbages is practiced in commercial-scale operations. In large operations, after harvest, heads are trimmed, sorted and packed, then vacuum cooled. Cabbage can be stored the longest at between 30 to 36 °F (-1 to 2 °C) with a humidity of 90–100 percent; these conditions will result in up to six months of longevity. When stored under less ideal conditions, cabbage can still last up to four months.[37]

Culinary use[edit]

Cabbage, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy103 kJ (25 kcal)
Carbohydrates5.8 g
- Sugars3.2 g
- Dietary fiber2.5 g
Fat0.1 g
Protein1.28 g
Thiamine (vit. B1)0.061 mg (5%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2)0.040 mg (3%)
Niacin (vit. B3)0.234 mg (2%)
Pantothenic acid (B5)0.212 mg (4%)
Vitamin B60.124 mg (10%)
Folate (vit. B9)43 μg (11%)
Vitamin C36.6 mg (44%)
Vitamin K76 μg (72%)
Calcium40 mg (4%)
Iron0.47 mg (4%)
Magnesium12 mg (3%)
Manganese0.16 mg (8%)
Phosphorus26 mg (4%)
Potassium170 mg (4%)
Sodium18 mg (1%)
Zinc0.18 mg (2%)
Fluoride1 µg
Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Cabbage is used in many ways, ranging from eating raw and simple steaming to pickling, stewing, sauteing or braising.[18] Pickling is one of the most popular ways of preserving cabbage, creating dishes such as sauerkraut and kimchee,[13] although kimchee is more often made from Chinese cabbage (B. rapa).[18] Savoy cabbages are usually used in salads, while smooth-leaf types are utilized for both fresh market sales and processing.[14] Bean curd and cabbage is a staple of Chinese cooking,[38] while the British dish bubble and squeak is made primarily with salt beef and boiled cabbage.[39] Cabbage is used extensively in Polish cuisine. It is one of the main food crops, and sauerkraut is a frequent dish, as well as being used to stuff other dishes such as golabki (stuffed cabbage) and pierogi (filled pasta). Other eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Romania, also have traditional dishes that feature cabbage as a main ingredient.[40] In the United States, cabbage is used primarily for the production of coleslaw, followed by fresh market use and sauerkraut production.[20] Cabbage consumption varies widely around the world, with the Russians eating the largest amount in Europe, at 20 kilograms (44 lb) per capita, while Belgians consume 4.7 kilograms (10 lb), the Dutch 4.0 kilograms (8.8 lb), Americans 3.9 kilograms (8.6 lb) and the Spaniards 1.9 kilograms (4.2 lb).[20][41]

The characteristic flavor of cabbage is caused by glucosinolates, a class of sulfur-containing glucosides. Although found throughout the plant, these compounds are concentrated in the highest quantities in the seeds; lesser quantities are found in young vegetative tissue, and they decrease as the tissue ages.[42] Cooked cabbage is often criticized for its pungent, unpleasant odor and taste. These develop when cabbage is overcooked and a hydrogen sulfide gas is produced.[43]

Nutrition and health[edit]

Cabbage is a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C and fiber. It is a cruciferous vegetable, and has been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers, especially those in the colorectal group.[13] This is possibly due to the glucosinolates found in cole crops, which serve as metabolic detoxicants, or due to the sulphoraphane content, also responsible for metabolic anti-carcinogenic activities. Purple cabbage also contains anthocyanins, which in other vegetables have been proven to have anti-carcinogenic properties.[44] Along with other cole crops, cabbage is a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical that boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.[45][46] Research suggests that boiling these vegetables reduces their anti-carcinogenic properties.[47]

Food-borne illness[edit]

Cabbage has been linked to outbreaks of some food-borne illnesses, including Listeria monocytogenes[48] and Clostridium botulinum. The latter toxin has been traced to pre-made, packaged coleslaw mixes, while the spores were found on whole cabbages that were otherwise acceptable in appearance. Shigella species are able to survive in shredded cabbage.[49] Two outbreaks of E. coli in the United States have been linked to cabbage consumption. Biological risk assessments have concluded that there is the potential for further outbreaks linked to cabbage, due to contamination at many stages of the growing, harvesting and packaging processes. Contaminants from water, humans, animals and soil have the potential to be transferred to cabbage, and from there to the end consumer.[50]

Medicinal lore[edit]

In addition to its usual purpose as an edible vegetable, cabbage has been used historically as a medicinal herb. The ancient Roman nobleman Pliny the Elder described both culinary and medicinal properties of the vegetable, recommending it for drunkenness–both preventatively to prevent the effects of alcohol, and to cure hangovers.[51] This traditional usage persisted in European literature until the mid-20th century.[52] In Cato the Elder's work De Agri Cultura ("On Agriculture"), he suggested that women could prevent diseases in their private parts by bathing in urine obtained from those who had frequently eaten cabbage.[21] The cooling properties of the leaves were used in Britain as compresses for ulcers and breast abscesses, and as a treatment for trench foot in World War I. Other medicinal uses recorded in Europe folk medicine include treatments for rheumatism, sore throat, hoarseness, colic, and melancholy.[52]

In the United States, cabbage has been used as a hangover cure, to treat abscesses, to prevent sunstroke, or to cool body parts affected by fevers. The leaves have also been used to sooth sore feet, and, tied around the neck of children, to relieve croup. Mashed cabbage and cabbage juice have been used in poultices to remove boils and treat warts, pneumonia, appendicitis, and ulcers.[52]


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  35. ^ Finch, Stan; Collier, Rosemanry H. (2007). "Cruciferous Root Crop Insects: Ecology and Control". In Pimentel, David. Encyclopedia of Pest Management 2. CRC Press. pp. 131–134. ISBN 978-1-4200-5361-6. 
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Cited literature[edit]

External links[edit]