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Cabbage cultivars – healthy, versatile and cheap!

Not many vegetables are available in such enormous diversity as cabbage. The botanical name Brassica oleracea covers a cornucopia of cultivars – white cabbage, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi. They look and taste so different that you’d scarcely believe they’re related.

It all started with wild cabbage

Despite the differences, all varieties of cabbage have one thing in common: they are originally derived from wild cabbage – a biennial plant that grows on the Mediterranean coast and the European Atlantic coast. It likes lime and tolerates salt. In the first growing season, the plant forms a rosette of leaves, the following year it produces a tall flower spike.

It’s all cabbage

White cabbage, red cabbage, cabbage and savoy cabbage are classic types of cabbage, which we harvest and eat at the rosette stage. With white and red cabbage the leaf rosettes form a tightly-packed head of smooth, fleshy leaves. Then there’s the pointed cabbage with smaller cone-shaped heads, fairly loose leaves and a delicate sweet taste. Savoy cabbage has a round head of loosely packed leaves that look crinkled and blistered. In the last few years, dark, curly kale leaves have shot up the popularity scale as a super-food. Kale doesn’t form heads; the green or red, slightly waxy, kale leaves are attached to the stem with strong stems. Brussels sprouts could be called a kind of "mini-cabbage" with the compact, walnut-sized leaf buds grow in the leaf axils of the 50 to 70-centimetre-high stalks.

When it comes to cauliflower, broccoli and Romanesco, it’s actually the flowers that we eat as vegetables. Then there’s the kohlrabi, which is the thickened stem of the plant growing above ground. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as a crunchy, sweet vegetable, or cubed and cooked.

Stuffed with vitamins and minerals

No matter which type of cabbage you eat, you can be sure of getting a wealth of health benefits – such as vitamin C and B vitamins, beta carotene, folic acid, potassium, calcium and iron. Kale also supplies vitamin K and provitamin A. Furthermore, cabbage supplies a lot of fibre and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals have many positive qualities; if you eat them regularly they are thought to lower your cholesterol and blood sugar levels and to boost your immune system.

Mustard oil glycosides are responsible for the special taste of cabbage. Spices like caraway seeds or fennel seeds help to prevent the bloating effect that cabbage has on some people. Buy the best and freshest-looking cabbages you can find. Ideally, you should store all types of cabbage in your fridge, but not together with ethylene-producing fruit which could cause it to deteriorate. In general, cabbage is a healthy, versatile vegetable which is often surprisingly cheap.

 

Source: Heike Stommel, www.bzfe.de