7

In the UK at least most people will make coleslaw out of what are sold as "white cabbage" (example here), such that these are frequently referred to as "coleslaw cabbages". Why is this particular type of cabbage usually chosen?

I know little about growing cabbages, but I eat quite a few and this is based purely on my own observations. There are many different types, and quite a lot of variation within each type. However there is one "axis of variation" that I attribute to being at least related to the age of the plant at harvest. In the shop this axis can be identified by the density and compressibility of the cabbage, which relates to how much air there is between the layers of leaves. The ones with more air between the leaves, and therefore have lower density and more compressibility, will tend to be less tough/fibrous and also less bitter. In almost all situations I would prefer the younger cabbage, but to my palate these properties are particularly important when the cabbage is served uncooked, such as in coleslaw. In the UK the cabbages that are most likely to be "younger" are sold as pointed or sweetheart cabbage (example here), and the cabbages that are most likely to be "older" are white and red cabbage. I have tried a basic coleslaw with pointed cabbage and it seemed to work for my palate. I do not understand why anyone, let alone everyone, would choose the "old" white cabbage for coleslaw in particular when there is younger, sweeter, less tough cabbage available for the same if not less money. Can anyone explain?

5
  • 2
    What makes you think the density of the cabbage is determined by its age?
    – Sneftel
    Nov 1, 2023 at 9:29
  • No very good reason. Things tend to get tougher with age, the old leaves of any one cabbage will be tougher and more bitter. I have always assumed this. I try an make it clear in the question that this is just an assumption.
    – User65535
    Nov 1, 2023 at 9:34
  • 4
    FWIW: "Coleslaw" comes from the Dutch word "Koolsla". It literally means "Salad of (white) cabbage".
    – Opifex
    Nov 2, 2023 at 9:06
  • 1
    You can also change the texture and remove some of the bitterness by giving your cabbage a salt massage after cutting it up… just add salt, get your hands in there and squish it around, then wait a bit and it will give up a lot of moisture. Drain and possibly give it a rinse so it’s not too salty
    – Joe
    Nov 3, 2023 at 0:42
  • I find this absolutely fascinating because to my palate, "green" equals "bitter", in all vegetables (not intrinsically bad, because a little bitterness is often a good flavour component). I find any green cabbage needs to be at least very slightly cooked to take the edge off the bitterness, whereas white doesn't - and is wonderfully crunchy and generally very pleasant raw.
    – Nye
    Nov 3, 2023 at 13:47

2 Answers 2

17

The primary factor determining toughness in supermarket cabbage is effectively cultivar, not age. While cabbage does get a little tougher as it grows, that doesn't matter to the consumer because farmers won't sell white cabbage (a decidedly low-cost vegetable) until it's as heavy as it's going to get. In any case, round cabbage and pointed cabbage are sold at similar ages.

Why, then, is coleslaw so often made from white cabbage? It would be hard to rank the reasons, but here's the big ones (IMO).

  1. White cabbage is crisp and juicy, more so than sweetheart cabbage. It stands up well to acidic dressing even when thinly sliced. Try making a strong zesty coleslaw with sesame oil and lemon juice and leaving it for a few hours; the white cabbage will still have some crunch while the sweetheart cabbage wilts into stringy mush.

  2. White cabbage is cheaper (based on a quick survey of nearby markets, about 40%-75% of the price). And even pound for pound, white cabbage has a more consistent texture, reducing wastage.

  3. White cabbage has a (IMO) pleasantly peppery taste which sweetheart cabbage lacks.

  4. White cabbage produces a "traditional" coleslaw texture. Sweetheart cabbage doesn't.

  5. White cabbage is available fresh in more seasons.

All of this is a matter of personal preference, of course. If you prefer your coleslaw with pointed cabbage, no reason not to go with that.

7
  • 8
    Part of the 'peppery' in cabbage is like that of mustard - glucosinolate. The two are related plants. Cooking or acid [like lemon juice] will knock back the perceived pepperiness [though personally I love it.]. Over-cooking, on the other hand will start to smell like bad eggs as the glucosinolates break down 'too far'.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 1, 2023 at 11:50
  • 3
    Not to mention that the denser cabbage is easier (for the regular consumer, not chefs) to slice into thin slices or even grate to make the coleslaw. If you do decide to cook cabbage sometime and are into east-asian flavours, try hot and spicy cabbage/Sichuan cabbage; basically very hot pan, add oil, sichuan pepper, and dry chili peppers, add cabbage immediately, fry, add brown sugar and fry ~1 min, balance with rice vinegar and soy sauce. Best way by far IMO.
    – bob1
    Nov 1, 2023 at 22:01
  • 2
    I'd argue that (2) is the overwhelming reason.
    – FuzzyChef
    Nov 2, 2023 at 5:27
  • 4
    6. Inertia. That's how they've always done it, that's how their parents did it, etc. Probably based on a time when there was less variety in produce available. Nov 2, 2023 at 17:11
  • 2
    @user3067860 - that was my thought. In the 70s when the UK first ever heard of coleslaw, that was how it was made. Cabbage availability was white, similar looking green [tougher], savoy [for a treat]. Little else. Pointy/sweetheart… nope. Red came in jars, pickled.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 2, 2023 at 19:28
0

Supermarkets in Australia are fairly rubbish (but have succeeded in removing fresh produce markets from the high-street), so I've "enjoyed" making coleslaw out of all sorts of cabbage.

Red cabbage stains the coleslaw kind of purple-pink, and I think this makes it look much less appetising. I will not use it for coleslaw if I can find anything else, including Wombok. So unless purple mayonnaise is your thing, this is a big reason to stick to white/green cabbage. At parties & BBQs, I find purple coleslaw doesn't get eaten.

Wombok ("Napa") works OK, but to my palate it doesn't have the same textural crunch as "old white" cabbage.

Savoy cabbage works the same, but obviously is curlier so looks a bit weird. Sugarloaf / Pointed cabbage is pretty much the same as "old white", but obviously more delicious because "sugar" is in the name. /s

2
  • 1
    Red cabbage works well for vinaigrette style coleslaw. (I don’t make mine with mayo)
    – Joe
    Nov 3, 2023 at 0:41
  • Whether pink is desirable or not is also a matter of taste. Barbie, anyone?
    – Stephie
    Nov 3, 2023 at 9:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.