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Spotlight on the Cabbage: History, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Updated on August 9, 2017

Although often overlooked today, the modest cabbage has a long and storied history. Did you know wild cabbages were among the first vegetables collected by plant-hunting gatherers? Their subsequent cultivation over the last 4,000 years begot all manner of today's cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts. Today, there are over 400 varieties in the Brassica oleracea family.


The cabbage has long been recognized for its health benefits. Workers building the Great Wall of China ate brined cabbage for stamina. Dutch sailors relied upon it to prevent scurvy. Medieval doctors used cabbage to dress wounds and Russian peasants survived by eating it.

Through the years, cabbage has been the object of myth and folklore. Greeks and Romans believed eating cabbage prevented drunkenness. In Old World Europe, it was tradition to give newlyweds a bowl of cabbage soup to promote fertility. French custom has it that babies are found in the cabbage patch. Children today play with Cabbage Patch dolls carrying three-figure price tags (or "adoption fees").

A cabbage patch kid?
A cabbage patch kid? | Source

In the United States, cabbage is perhaps best known for its customary St. Patrick's Day pairing with corned beef. The custom did not arise in Ireland, but in the bars of New York in the early twentieth century where Irish construction workers could get a "free" lunch of corned beef and cabbage upon purchase of a couple of beers or shots of whiskey. The Irish eat their share of cabbage, to be sure, but it's traditionally paired with bacon in the home land.

Health Benefits of Cabbage

Classic philosopher Cato lived well into his eighties subsiding on little more than cabbage, and recommended his diet of raw cabbage tossed with vinegar to prevent disease and promote virility. While cabbage may not satisfy all dietary needs, Cato was on to something. In some respects, the cabbage approaches "super food" status.

Cabbage is low in calories (about 17 per serving) and high in fiber. This is a great weight loss-fighting combination because the stomach feels full faster on fewer calories. Due to its remarkable weight loss properties, a whole diet was developed around cabbage soup. (Note: this radical, seven-day diet is not suitable for long-term weight loss.)

Cabbage is high in vitamin C to boost immunity levels and contains many powerful anti-cancer compounds. Various studies have shown a diet rich in cabbage lowers the risk of breast, lung, colon, cervical and prostate cancers. Cabbage is low on the glycemic scale. Because it has little impact on blood sugar levels, it helps prevent and control diabetes.

Complete nutrition data for cabbage.

Eating Cabbage

A cabbage dish need not be the pale pile of boiled mush that accompanies corned beef on St. Patrick's Day. Indeed, some of the health benefits of cabbage are diminished by prolonged cooking. Eaten raw or lightly cooked, cabbage can be an exciting addition to the dinner table any day of the year.

These cabbage recipes showcase the versatility of this healthy vegetable.

Cabbage Salad with Candied Pecans and Apples

With its unique combination of flavors and textures, this is not your typical coleslaw.


1 tablespoon butter

1 cup pecan halves

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/3 cup light mayonnaise

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

8 cups shredded raw cabbage

1 medium Honeycrisp or other sweet apple, medium dice

1 yellow or red sweet bell pepper, medium dice

4 slices bacon, cooked and cut into 1/2" pieces


Melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Add pecans and cook, stirring, until pecans begin to brown, about 1 or 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne and stir until nuts are coated and mixture begins to thicken. Transfer nuts to foil sheet, sprinkle with salt and cool. Candied pecans can be made 2 days ahead. When cooled, store in airtight container at room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk together both vinegars, mustard and mayonnaise. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, mix together cabbage, apple and bell pepper. Add dressing and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, stir in candied pecans and bacon.

Makes 8 servings.

Hearty Cabbage Soup

So much better than the cabbage soup of the infamous diet, this hearty and heart-healthy vegetable soup makes a great meatless meal when paired with toasted cheese bread. Use vegetable broth for a vegan dish.


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (1/2 teaspoon dried)

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 can diced tomatoes, with juice

4 cups beef or vegetable broth

1 medium potato, peeled and cubed

4 cups shredded cabbage

1 bay leaf


Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add onion and cook over medium heat until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add celery, carrot, garlic, thyme and pepper, and continue to cook until vegetables soften, stirring occasionally, about 5 more minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Bring soup to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 30 minutes until potato and cabbage are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Cabbage is a healthy addition to soup.
Cabbage is a healthy addition to soup. | Source

Beef and Cabbage Bundles

This dish is a snap to throw together using a tube of refrigerated dinner rolls and an easy-to-make filling of ground beef and cabbage. The savory bundles are great for lunch on the go or to pack in a picnic basket.


1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon fennel seed, ground

2 cups shredded cabbage

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tube refrigerated crescent dinner rolls

2 tablespoons butter, melted


Pre-heat oven to 375°F. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the ground beef and onion until beef is cooked through, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Drain off excess grease as necessary.

Return pan to heat and add fennel seed. Stir for one minute. Add cabbage, salt and pepper and mix to thoroughly combine. Cover and reduce heat and cook until cabbage is crisp-tender and reduced in volume, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for at least 5 minutes.

While filling is cooling, separate dough into 8 triangles and roll out each until slightly larger. Place 1/4 cup filling in the center of each triangle. Bring points of triangle up to meet and pinch edges to seal.

Place bundles seam side down on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and brush tops with melted butter.

Makes 8 bundles.

A cabbage patch in early June.
A cabbage patch in early June. | Source

Don't wait until St. Patrick's Day. Start enjoying all the benefits of cabbage today!


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