The colorful, magical cabbage

by Sarah on November 25, 2011

cabbage salad

Cabbage salad, this time w/ out the peppers and carrots

In French mon petit chou (my little cabbage) is a term of endearment, a dietetic version of pumpkin pie. Call someone a cabbage head in America and be wary of the consequences. Same for Israel. It is best reserved for behind the back gossip. Meanwhile in Italy it is cabbage this and cabbage that and frankly my dear I don’t give a cavolo. For Poles, masters of the brassicae, cabbage usually means it’s time for dinner.

Even with so many cabbage expressions, its reputation has been more frumpy than colorful…until now

Here are two recipes, one for a simple salad dressed in vinegar and oil and the other a recipe for magic.

cabbage salad, red

Cabbage Salad


This salad tastes better after it marinates in the refrigerator for a day. I like the salad sour, which pairs well with the homey, slow cooked stews of winter.

1/2 cabbage, shredded

1 red pepper, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 grated carrot

1 bunch parsley, chopped

Vinegar to taste (I added 1/4 cup)

A good glug of olive oil (about 4-5 tablespoons)


To tenderize tough cabbage leaves sprinkle salt on the shredded cabbage and let to sit for 15 minutes until it softens. Rinse and dry to remove excess salt. Combine all the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

cabbage juice, anthocyanin

From left, cabbage juice with vinegar, regular cabbage juice, cabbage juice with baking soda

Nifty Cabbage Party Trick

Red cabbage cells contain a pigment called anthocyanin, which changes its chemical structure in response to environmental PH.  When it is released from the vacuoles (the plant’s storage organs), by either mashing or boiling water, it can be used as a natural litmus paper. There might be a scientific explanation behind the color transformations but to the five year olds I once demonstrated this trick to, it is nothing but magic.


Vinegar or lemon juice

Baking soda (not baking powder)

Boiling water

Half a cabbage

Tear or cut the cabbage into finger length pieces. Put in large bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 30 minutes, mixing periodically.

Reserving the purple water, strain the cabbage in a colander.

Pour the cabbage juice into three clear glasses. In one add a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. In the second one add a teaspoon of baking soda. Baking powder does not work because it contains cream of tartar, an acidifying agent.

What changes do you see? Try adding vinegar to the cup with baking powder to see what happens. This recipe will not work with beets which gets its red color from betalain pigments. Many flower petals with a magenta to violet hue contain anthocyanin as well and can be experimented on.

While we are on the topic of incredible vegetables, here is a picture of a cabbage growing in Alaska. In the land of the midnight sun, the extended day light of summer allows cabbages to grow to epic proportions.

Alaska Cabbage

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