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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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

a spoonful of yumm November 26, 2011 at 12:15 am

love the colors ! so beautiful….


Sally - My Custard Pie November 26, 2011 at 2:06 am

The salad looks great – just the kind of thing to eat in the run up to Christmas. Love the scientific explanation and the Alaskan cabbage too.


Rosa November 26, 2011 at 2:47 am

That is such a beautiful cabbage and a lovely salad! What colors.




Sanjeeta kk November 26, 2011 at 2:54 am

Wonderful experiment and love the beautiful colors of the magical cabbage!


Yaelian November 26, 2011 at 3:01 am

Nice cabbage salad:) In Finnish they say: It does not go to my cabbage(kaali in Finnish) meaning one does not understand something..;D


Yael November 26, 2011 at 8:26 am

How I love those science experiments! My girls and their friends always were awe struck by these simple tricks.


Faye November 27, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Very interesting. I think your experiment is a good illustration of what happens if you want to braise red cabbage or cook it some other way with liquid. If you don’t add vinegar, the red cabbage turns blue.


Sarah November 27, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Thanks Fay, Blue braised cabbage is a great soup for the 4th of July, with a dollop of sour cream and cranberries on top :-)


foodwanderings November 30, 2011 at 8:21 am

Sarah, Must tell you this post is so engaging fun and informative to read with many twists and turns. I love cabbage & I think of cabbage patch dolls:).


Lizzy (Good Things - Australia) November 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Lovely article and so interesting. I love braised cabbage and you have given cabbage a whole sexy new look!


Chandra August 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for anthocyanin


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