A cabbage generally weighs between 500 to 1,000 grams (1 to 2 lb). Smooth-leafed, firm-headed green cabbages are the most common, with smooth-leafed purple cabbages and crinkle-leafed savoy cabbages of both colours being rarer. Under conditions of long sunny days, such as those found at high northern latitudes in summer, cabbages can grow quite large.
Below, post-Pritish Kumar Halder takes a brief look at Cabbage, which is grown as an annual vegetable crop.
As of 2012, the heaviest cabbage was 62.71 kilograms (138 lb 4 oz). Cabbage heads are generally picked during the first year of the plant’s life cycle, but plants intended for seed are allowed to grow a second year and must be kept separate from other cole crops to prevent cross-pollination. Cabbage is prone to several nutrient deficiencies, as well as to multiple pests, and bacterial and fungal diseases.
Cabbage seedlings have a thin taproot and cordate (heart-shaped) cotyledons. The first leaves produced are ovate (egg-shaped) with a lobed petiole. Plants are 40–60 cm (16–24 in) tall in their first year at the mature vegetative stage, and 1.5–2.0 m (4 ft 11 in – 6 ft 7 in) tall when flowering in the second year. Heads average between 0.5 and 4 kg (1 and 8 lb), with fast-growing, earlier-maturing varieties producing smaller heads.
Most cabbages have thick, alternating leaves, with margins that range from wavy or lobed to highly dissected; some varieties have a waxy bloom on the leaves. Plants have root systems that are fibrous and shallow. About 90 percent of the root mass is in the upper 20–30 cm (8–12 in) of soil; some lateral roots can penetrate up to 2 m (6 ft 7 in) deep.
The inflorescence is an unbranched and indeterminate terminal raceme measuring 50–100 cm (20–40 in) tall, with flowers that are yellow or white. Each flower has four petals set in a perpendicular pattern, as well as four sepals, six stamens, and a superior ovary that is two-celled and contains a single stigma and style. Two of the six stamens have shorter filaments.
The fruit is a silique that opens at maturity through dehiscence to reveal brown or black seeds that are small and round in shape. Self-pollination is impossible, and plants are cross-pollinated by insects. The initial leaves form a rosette shape comprising 7 to 15 leaves, each measuring 25–35 cm (10–14 in) by 20–30 cm (8–12 in); after this, leaves with shorter petioles develop and heads form through the leaves cupping inward.
Different varieties prefer different soil types, ranging from lighter sand to heavier clay, but all prefer fertile ground with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. For optimal growth, there must be adequate levels of nitrogen in the soil, especially during the early head formation stage, and sufficient phosphorus and potassium during the early stages of expansion of the outer leaves.
Temperatures between 4 and 24 °C (39 and 75 °F) prompt the best growth, and extended periods of higher or lower temperatures may result in premature bolting (flowering). Flowering induced by periods of low temperatures (a process called vernalization) only occurs if the plant is past the juvenile period. The transition from a juvenile to adult state happens when the stem diameter is about 6 mm (1⁄4 in). Vernalization allows the plant to grow to an adequate size before flowering. In certain climates, cabbage can be planted at the beginning of the cold period and survive until a later warm period without being induced to flower, a practice that was common in the eastern US.
Plants are generally started in protected locations early in the growing season before being transplanted outside, although some are seeded directly into the ground from which they will be harvested.
Seedlings typically emerge in about 4–6 days from seeds planted 13 mm (1⁄2 in) deep at a soil temperature between 20 and 30 °C (68 and 86 °F). Growers normally place plants 30 to 61 cm (12 to 24 in) apart. Closer spacing reduces the resources available to each plant (especially the amount of light) and increases the time taken to reach maturity.
Due to its high level of nutrient requirements, cabbage is prone to nutrient deficiencies, including boron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. There are several physiological disorders that can affect the postharvest appearance of cabbage. Internal tip burn occurs when the margins of inside leaves turn brown, but the outer leaves look normal. Necrotic spot is where there are oval sunken spots a few millimetres across that are often grouped around the midrib. In pepper spot, tiny black spots occur on the areas between the veins, which can increase during storage.
Fungal diseases include wirestem, which causes weak or dying transplants; Fusarium yellows, which result in stunted and twisted plants with yellow leaves; and blackleg (see Leptosphaeria macula’s), which leads to sunken areas on stems and gray-brown spotted leaves. The fungi Alternaria brassica and A. Brassicaceae cause dark leaf spots in affected plants.
They are both seedborne and airborne, and typically propagate from spores in infected plant debris left on the soil surface for up to twelve weeks after harvest. Rhizoctonia solan causes the post-emergence disease wirestem, resulting in killed seedlings (“damping-off”), root rot or stunted growth and smaller heads.
Local market and storage
Cabbages sold for market are generally smaller, and different varieties are used for those sold immediately upon harvest and those stored before sale. Those used for processing, especially sauerkraut, are larger and have a lower percentage of water. Both hand and mechanical harvesting are used, and hand-harvesting is generally used for cabbages destined for market sales. In commercial-scale operations, hand-harvested cabbages are trimmed, sorted, and packed directly in the field to increase efficiency.
Vacuum cooling rapidly refrigerates the vegetable, allowing for earlier shipping and a fresher product. Cabbage can be stored the longest at −1 to 2 °C (30 to 36 °F) with a humidity of 90–100 percent; these conditions will result in up to six months of longevity. When stored under less ideal conditions, cabbage can still last up to four months.
Cabbage consumption varies widely around the world: Russia has the highest annual per capita consumption at 20 kg (44 lb), followed by Belgium at 4.7 kg (10 lb 6 oz) and the Netherlands at 4.0 kg (8 lb 13 oz). Americans consume 3.9 kg (8.6 lb) annually per capita.
Cabbage is prepared and consumed in many ways. The simplest options include eating the vegetable raw or steaming it, though many cuisines pickle, stew, sauté or braise cabbage. Pickling is a common way of preserving cabbage, creating dishes such as sauerkraut and kimchi, although kimchi is more often made from Chinese cabbage (B. Rapa subsp. pekinensis).
Savoy cabbages are usually used in salads, while smooth-leaf types are utilized for both market sales and processing. Bean curd and cabbage is a staple of Chinese cooking, while the British dish bubble and squeak is made primarily with leftover potato and boiled cabbage and eaten with cold meat.
In Poland, cabbage is one of the main food crops, and it features prominently in Polish cuisine. It is frequently eaten, either cooked or as sauerkraut, as a side dish or as an ingredient in such dishes as bigos (cabbage, sauerkraut, meat, and wild mushrooms, among other ingredients) gołąbki (stuffed cabbage) and pierogi (filled dumplings).
Other eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Romania, also have traditional dishes that feature cabbage as a main ingredient. In India and Ethiopia, cabbage is often included in spicy salads and braises. In the United States, cabbage is used primarily for the production of coleslaw, followed by market use and sauerkraut production.