Red Cabbage: Colorful And Healthy

Red cabbage is a vital jack of all trades: the red-blue cabbage vegetable is mainly grown in Germany. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant substances, red cabbage strengthen the immune system and protects against numerous diseases. Read everything about the healing effects, the nutritional values, and the correct preparation and storage of red cabbage.

Red cabbage or blue cabbage?

Red cabbage has many names that vary by region. For example, in northern Germany, it is referred to as red cabbage, while in eastern Austria and in central and south-western Germany the term red cabbage is predominantly used. In southern Germany and western Austria, a color change is taking place: one speaks of blue cabbage or blue cabbage. In Switzerland, people don’t really agree on the color: here red cabbage is called red cabbage or blue cabbage.

These discrepancies are linked to three factors. If you take a closer look at red cabbage or blue cabbage, you’ll see that it’s actually neither red nor blue, but rather purple or violet. But it is the case that there was no word for these colors in the Middle Ages, which is why adjectives such as red-blue or blue-red were used. Why the cabbage is sometimes reddish, sometimes bluish, and many more questions will be answered in the course of our article.

The relationships in the cabbage family

Like the other varieties of cabbage, red cabbage (Brassica oleracea convar. capitata var. rubra L.) belongs to the cruciferous family. Whether red cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower: they are all the result of mutations.

Cauliflower, for example, is a mutation of the flower, while cabbage is a mutation of the main shoot. In this way, over time, a great culinary variety has emerged in the field of cabbage vegetables that we humans can enjoy.

White cabbage and red cabbage: the decisive difference

The colorful red cabbage is a bit smaller and firmer than the white cabbage, but apart from its striking color, it looks almost exactly the same. In both cases, it is a headed cabbage, which is why the two brothers hardly differ in terms of the ingredients. At one point, however, red cabbage differs significantly from white cabbage.

It contains pigments called anthocyanins. These are antioxidant secondary plant substances that make them a particularly healthy vegetable. In the cold months in particular, when red cabbage is mainly harvested, there are comparatively few regional types of fruit and vegetables that keep our immune system busy and protect us from infections. The red cabbage is therefore a great alternative to vitamin-rich exotic species, as it grows practically on your doorstep.

History of the Red Cabbage

Cabbage originally comes from the Mediterranean region and was cultivated there thousands of years ago. The ancient Greeks and Romans were already familiar with several varieties of cabbage, e.g. B. the green cabbage is known, but no species with closed heads. In Central Europe, on the other hand, cabbage was not cultivated until the Middle Ages.

The red cabbage was first mentioned in the writings of the polymath Hildegard von Bingen in the 11th century as “Rubeae caule”. On the one hand, cabbage was considered an important food because it provided people with important nutrients in winter, but on the other hand, it was also a recognized remedy.

For example, fresh cabbage juice, cabbage soup, and sauerkraut were used for hair loss, gout, or joint pain, but also for digestive problems, colic, stomach, and duodenal ulcers, and intestinal tumors. Wraps made from rolled or crushed cabbage leaves were used externally to treat ulcers, wounds, diseased joints, and inflammatory skin problems.

How the color of red cabbage came about

The coloring of the red cabbage depends on the growing area and can actually be reddish and sometimes more bluish. This is because leaf color changes with soil pH. If the soil is acidic, the leaf color shines more in red tones, in alkaline soil, on the other and, in blue tones. The decisive factor here are the plant pigments called anthocyanins, which act as a pH indicator.

When artificial fertilizers were not yet used in agriculture, the regional color difference was much greater, especially since the northern German soils were significantly more acidic than the soils in southern Germany due to the many raised bogs.

Acid turns red cabbage red, the sugar turns it blue

In the meantime, the preparation in the kitchen primarily decides whether the red cabbage becomes red cabbage or red cabbage. Depending on the ingredients, an acidic or alkaline environment is also created when the red cabbage is cooked.

The more vinegar, wine, or acidic foods like apples that are added, the redder the dish will be. This is particularly common in Northern Germany and in Baden cuisine. In southern Germany, on the other hand, red cabbage is sometimes prepared sweetly (with sugar and jam), which turns it blue.

The nutritional values of red cabbage

The nutritional values of red cabbage are as follows (per 100 g of fresh/raw vegetables):

  • Energy 23 kcal (95 kJ)
  • water 90 g
  • carbohydrates 3.5 g
  • dietary fiber 2.5 g
  • protein 1.5 g
  • Fat 0.2g

Low in calories and high in fiber

Like any vegetable, red cabbage is low in calories. In many recipes, however, it is prepared with lard or other high-fat ingredients, which of course negates the low-calorie content of the vegetable.

Red cabbage is a good source of dietary fiber, which is B. 200 g already provides a sixth of the dietary fiber requirement (30 g), namely 5 g. You often cover your fiber requirements primarily with foods made from whole grains. However, in a balanced and healthy diet, at least half of the dietary fiber needed should come from vegetables.

Mustard oil glycosides in red cabbage

The best-known phytochemicals from cruciferous plants include mustard oil glycosides (also called glucosinolates), which protect plants from predators, fungi and bacteria, and people from diseases. Both red and white cabbage, broccoli, and many other cabbage vegetables are rich in these substances. There are around 150 different mustard oil glycosides, the most important ones in red cabbage include glucobrassicin and sinigrin.

In the body, glucobrassicin is converted into indole-3-carbinol or DIM with the help of the heat-sensitive enzyme myrosinase, which we have already reported here: DIM – A miracle of nature. Because DIM not only has a cancer-inhibiting effect but also regulates the hormonal balance so that e.g. B. can be used for menopausal symptoms.

Isothiocyanates can be formed from sinigrin, which is among the most effective and healing substances in the cabbage family and is also found in horseradish, mustard, and cress.

The well-known sulforaphane is formed from another mustard oil glycoside (glucoraphanin) – also under the influence of myrosinase. It is present in particularly large amounts in broccoli, radish, and arugula.

Which mustard oil glycoside dominates in a cabbage plant and how high the concentration of the substance depends on various factors such as the variety and the growing conditions.

Red cabbage for urinary tract infections and cancer prevention

The highest concentrations of the substances mentioned are then found in the urinary tract of people who eat cabbage, where the antibacterial effect on infections is considered to be certain, e.g. B. in bladder infections. Mustard oil glycosides also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. As a result, they strengthen the immune system, prevent infections, and reduce the risk of certain tumor diseases such as breast cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

A study by Egyptian researchers with 150 colorectal cancer patients also showed that eating cabbage vegetables such as red cabbage is a very important factor in protecting the intestines from tumors.

We have already dealt with the mustard oil glycosides and their properties and effects in detail in many of our articles – e.g. B. in our article about white cabbage.

Anthocyanins: coloring agent in red cabbage

In addition to the mustard oil glycosides, red cabbage also contains anthocyanins. These are red to violet-blue plant pigments that are only found in red cabbage in the cabbage family (not in broccoli or white cabbage). An exception would be purple cauliflower, which also contains anthocyanins.

There are numerous types of red cabbage whose names refer to the color and thus to the anthocyanins, such as amaranth, topaz, marner camp red, or permanent red. The anthocyanins not only make the heads of cabbage shine in splendid colors; they can also keep us humans healthy and protect us from diseases. Because they have a positive effect on blood clotting, also have antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects.

Since red cabbage contains many other antioxidants such as mustard oil glycosides, carotenoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E in addition to anthocyanins, this is an ideal food to do something good for your health.

Prevent nutrient losses during preparation

While the white cabbage is often prepared as a raw vegetable salad, the red cabbage is best left to simmer for a long time or even reaches for the red cabbage in a glass or can. Although red cabbage tastes wonderful when cooked, there is no question about it, but this always comes at the expense of valuable ingredients.

A Polish study has shown that both steaming and fermenting red cabbage destroy up to more than 30 percent of the anthocyanins. The longer the vegetables are cooked, the greater the loss of nutrients. The anthocyanin content was reduced by 25 percent after 30 minutes of cooking and by 34 percent after one hour.

Of course, the raw red cabbage performed best: it contained the most anthocyanins and therefore the strongest antioxidant potential. Nevertheless, the researchers came to the conclusion that even fermented, steamed, and stored red cabbage can still be considered a valuable food.

Spanish scientists from the Universitat Poliècnica de València recommend cooking red cabbage using the sous-vide method unless you always want to eat it raw. Vacuum cooking has the advantage that the ingredients and thus the aromas and taste are not affected so much. The study also showed that the loss of anthocyanins is twice as high in conventional cooking methods.

The consumption of raw red cabbage is also recommended with regard to mustard oil glycosides, as the content is reduced by 30 to 60 percent when cooked. A large part of the mustard oil glycosides goes into the cooking water and is thrown away with it. Another problem is that the enzyme myrosinase is completely inactivated at temperatures above 80° Celsius, which has a negative effect on the formation of mustard oils. The loss can be kept within limits by steaming.

Flatulence after eating red cabbage

Unfortunately, not a few people experience flatulence after eating red cabbage and co., which is why healthy vegetables are often avoided. Responsible for this is the carbohydrate raffinose, which can only be broken down and absorbed to a small extent in the small intestine. It, therefore, reaches the large intestine almost unchanged, where the intestinal bacteria there get to work and ferment the raffinose. This creates gases that can lead to flatulence.

However, there are a few tricks that can help counteract bloating. So you can put the cabbage in the freezer for a day or two before using it, or add spices like cumin, ginger, or fennel when cooking.

However, many people eat collards on a regular basis without developing the slightest discomfort, so it is assumed that one can get used to collards and their digestion.

Germany is the most important growing country for red cabbage in Europe; around 119,000 tons are harvested annually. In comparison, there are around 5,000 tons of red cabbage in Switzerland. Since the cabbage is available all year round from German cultivation, the vegetable has an ideal ecological profile – compared to exotic fruits rich in vital substances: the transport routes are short and the environment is protected.

When is red cabbage in season?

A distinction is made between early red cabbage, mid-early red cabbage, and autumn and permanent red cabbage. The early varieties are harvested as early as June, but the main season for red cabbage does not start until autumn. The late varieties are harvested from September to November, and the red cabbage is stored and is then available well into the summer.

It is interesting that a full 90 percent of the entire red cabbage harvest falls on the autumn and permanent red cabbage and only 10 percent on the early red cabbage. For this reason, red cabbage is also known as a winter vegetable. This is due to the fact that it has become common practice to serve red cabbage as an accompaniment to autumnal dishes such as a game. But what speaks against breaking with nonsensical traditions and enjoying red cabbage all year round?

What you should consider when buying

When buying red cabbage, make sure that the leaves are nice and firm. If the cabbage is sold without the outer leaves, a gentle pressure test is sufficient to check the quality: if the cabbage feels firm, it is fresh. Other quality features are a rich color, firm and largely closed heads, and shiny leaves.

Organic is better

According to analyzes by Greenpeace, vegetables from Germany and the other EU countries, with a quota of around 2 percent exceeding the maximum level, generally perform better than food that is grown outside the EU area. Red cabbage is one of the less contaminated vegetables. Nevertheless, you should rely on organic vegetables, as these are usually unpolluted. You should keep in mind that the content of secondary plant substances in organic cultivation is higher than in conventional cultivation.

Proper storage of red cabbage protects its ingredients

Late-harvested autumn and winter herb varieties can easily be stored for a few months. It is important that the temperature is just above zero degrees Celsius and the humidity is high. A cool and dark cellar is ideal for longer storage.

You can keep the red cabbage in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for up to three weeks. If you have already cut the head of the cabbage, it will keep for a few days. It is important that you cover the cut surface with cling film to keep the loss of vitamins and secondary plant substances to a minimum.

According to a study at the University of Essex, the glucosinolate content of red cabbage is reduced by between 9 and 26 percent of the vegetables stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for longer than seven days. Pre-cut red cabbage, which is often offered in supermarkets, loses more than 75 percent of the glucosinolates after just 6 hours.

Freeze red cabbage

Plus, red cabbage freezes really well. This is particularly beneficial in small households, where a full head can be a little overkill. The total polyphenol content – ​​which also includes anthocyanins – is only reduced by around 12 percent after freezing.

Red cabbage is a very versatile vegetable that knows how to convince raw, steamed, or braised. The raw red cabbage is ideal for creating colorful salads, for example in combination with rockets and walnuts.

Process red cabbage into juice

In addition, red cabbage is a wonderful vegetable for healing cabbage juice – e.g. B. in combination with carrots – or to give healthy smoothies that certain something. With its valuable ingredients, the fine, sweet taste of cabbage, and the inviting colors, red cabbage simply cannot be missing in the raw food kitchen.

Cook your own cabbage

If you prefer to cook red cabbage, it can play the leading role in soups, vegetable stews, casseroles, or risotto. Whether with potatoes, pumpkin, chestnuts, onions, apples, mango, pineapple, millet, couscous, or bulgur: there are no limits to your imagination. The red cabbage leaves can also be used to prepare delicious roulades.

Typical traditional accompaniments to red cabbage include spices such as cloves, caraway, bay leaves, and juniper berries, but you can also be creative and add ginger, turmeric, chili, star anise, vanilla, or coriander. Instead of vinegar, you can use juice and some zest from a lemon or orange. You should avoid industrial sugar altogether. If you absolutely must have a sweetener, use yacon syrup.

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Written by Micah Stanley

Hi, I'm Micah. I am a creative Expert Freelance Dietitian Nutritionist with years of experience in counseling, recipe creation, nutrition, and content writing, product development.

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