Cabbage is a leafy green, white, purple, or red vegetable packed with nutrients such as Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin C. It is also low in calories and rich in antioxidants, calcium, fiber, and potassium. Available in most parts of the world, the versatile ingredient is used in various dishes such as coleslaw, sauerkraut, dumplings, and kimchi.
The ideal storage conditions for fresh cabbage are in temperatures between 32F to 40F (0C to 4C) with 95% relative humidity. When stored in these conditions, cabbage will keep for three to four months. The vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator can provide the ideal temperature but has a dry environment. Humidity can be added by wrapping the cabbage with a damp paper towel and placing it inside a perforated plastic bag. When stored shortly after harvest, the cabbage will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to four weeks.
Although fresh cabbage may be available in the grocery most of the time, it is usually only harvested once a year in the fall. To have fresh cabbage all year round, it is best to store it in the freezer when in season.
Preparing Cabbage for Storage
First, remove the outer leaves that are loose and tough. Rinse well and soak in cold water for at least 30 minutes to remove any dirt, grit, cabbage worms, or other bugs inside. Pat dry and prepare a knife and chopping board to cut the cabbage head into smaller pieces. For storing raw cabbage, prepare air-tight containers. If the cabbage will be blanched before storage, prepare a pot of boiling water, a blanching basket or spider, an ice bath, a baking tray, and air-tight containers.
The cabbage can be cut into quarters, smaller wedges, shredded depending on preference and future use. Another option is to core the cabbage and keep the individual leaves whole for cabbage rolls, such as Golabki (Polish cabbage rolls). Cabbage leaves are also an excellent keto-friendly alternative to spring roll wrappers or rice paper.
Freezing Raw Cabbage
Raw cabbage can be kept in the freezer for between one to two months when stored well. This method is ideal if the cabbage will be used in salads such as coleslaw. Dry the shredded or segmented cabbage thoroughly to avoid ice crystals and freezer burn after storage. Choose air-tight and freezer-safe containers such as reusable beeswax food wraps, BPA-free plastic containers, or vacuum sealer bags; Date and label the container before storage.
The best long-term storage for cabbage is by blanching it first before freezing. Blanching means scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time, then stop the cooking process immediately with an ice bath. The cooking process prevents active enzymes that result in the loss of color, texture, flavor, or spoilage. Blanching also removes any harmful organisms, helps retain some nutrients, and brightens the vegetable’s color.
The quickest method is to prepare a pot of boiling water and is 1 ½ faster than steam blanching the cabbage. Moreover, steam blanching is more suitable for thick and dense vegetables such as potatoes, broccoli, and squash.
Blanching times also vary with the size and type of vegetable. Over blanching results in the loss of flavor, color, nutrients, and texture. On the other hand, under-blanching will stimulate enzymatic activity and is worse than leaving the vegetable raw. Adding a bit of salt in the boiling water will help retain some water-soluble nutrients such as Vitamin C.
For cabbage, the recommended blanching time is 90 seconds for shredded pieces and two to three minutes for more significant segments. After cooking the cabbage, immediately place it in ice water for 90 seconds.
Drain the cabbage thoroughly as excess moisture will affect the quality of the vegetable. When completely dry, place on a baking tray to flash freeze the cabbage for six to eight hours. This step is not necessary but helps prevent the pieces from sticking together after freezing. It’s also convenient for getting individual portions without thawing the entire batch. Transfer to air-tight containers, date, and label. Blanched cabbage can be stored in the freezer for up to nine months.
Thawing and Cooking
Frozen, raw cabbage can be thawed in the refrigerator overnight for salads. Otherwise, the cabbage can be directly used in cooking without being thawed first. Refreezing thawed cabbage is not recommended due to losses in flavor, color, and quality. Check on the frozen cabbage every few weeks for yellowness, rot, or other signs of spoilage.
The Disadvantages of Blanching Cabbage
The main disadvantage of blanching cabbage is the loss of water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C and phenolic compounds. In a nutrition study, 20% of total phenolic content was lost after 60-second of blanching. Phenolic compounds have beneficial properties such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic effects.
Blanched cabbage loses nearly 50% of its original vitamin C content. Some varieties of fresh cabbage have up to 27 milligrams (mg) of Vitamin C or ascorbic acid per 100 grams. Red cabbage in Ohio and Maine were reported to have 75mg and 100mg, respectively. The daily recommended intake of ascorbic acid for adults is 65mg to 90mg. Vitamin C is necessary for iron absorption and is a powerful antioxidant as well.
In another study, researchers reported how cold storage helps retain at least 94% of ascorbic acid content despite two months of cold storage. Fresh cabbage was stored in large lard cans or wrapped in paper and bushel baskets at 31F to 41F (-0.5C to 5C). The team also reported that cutting or shredding cabbage results in a 9% to 15% ascorbic acid loss.
A third water-soluble nutrient is Vitamin B1 or thiamine. Thiamine is a coenzyme necessary for the conversion of nutrients into energy and supports the production of glucose. Cabbage contains an average of 70.0 micrograms (mcg) per 100 grams. The daily recommended intake for thiamine is 1000 mcg for adults. According to the same study, steamed cabbage retains significantly more Vitamin B1 compared to boiled cabbage.