Cabbage or headed cabbage (comprising several cultivars of Brassica oleracea) is a leafy green or purple biennial plant, grown as an annual vegetable crop for its dense-leaved heads. It is descended from the wild cabbage, B. oleracea var. oleracea, and is closely related to broccoli and cauliflower (var. botrytis), Brussels sprouts (var. gemmifera) and savoy cabbage (var. sabauda) which are sometimes called cole crops. Cabbage heads generally range from 0.5 to 4 kilograms (1 to 9 lb), and can be green, purple and white. Smooth-leafed firm-headed green cabbages are the most common, with smooth-leafed red and crinkle-leafed savoy cabbages of both colors seen more rarely. It is a multi-layered vegetable. Under conditions of long sunlit days such as are found at high northern latitudes in summer, cabbages can grow much larger. Some records are discussed at the end of the history section.
It is difficult to trace the exact history of cabbage, but it was most likely domesticated somewhere in Europe before 1000 BC, although savoys were not developed until the 16th century. By the Middle Ages, it had become a prominent part of European cuisine. 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 separated 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.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that world production of cabbage and other brassicas for 2011 was almost 69 million metric tons (68 million long tons; 75 million short tons). Almost half of these crops were grown in China, where Chinese cabbage is the most popular Brassica vegetable. Cabbages are prepared in many different ways for eating. They can be pickled, fermented for dishes such as sauerkraut, steamed, stewed, sautéed, braised, or eaten raw. Cabbage is a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C and dietary fiber. Contaminated cabbage has been linked to cases of food-borne illness in humans.
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea or B. oleracea var. capitata, var. tuba, var. sabauda or var. acephala) is a member of the genus Brassica and the mustard family, Brassicaceae. Several other cruciferous vegetables (sometimes known as cole crops) are considered cultivars of B. oleracea, including broccoli, collard greens, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and sprouting broccoli. All of these developed from the wild cabbage B. oleracea var. oleracea, also called colewort or field cabbage. This original species evolved over thousands of years into those seen today, as selection resulted in cultivars having different characteristics, such as large heads for cabbage, large leaves for kale and thick stems with flower buds for broccoli. The varietal epithet capitata is derived from the Latin word for “having a head”. B. oleracea and its derivatives have hundreds of common names throughout the world.
“Cabbage” was originally used to refer to multiple forms of B. oleracea, including those with loose or non-existent heads. A related species, Brassica rapa, is commonly named Chinese, napa or celery cabbage, and has many of the same uses. It is also a part of common names for several unrelated species. These include cabbage bark or cabbage tree (a member of the genus Andira) and cabbage palms, which include several genera of palms such as Mauritia, Roystonea oleracea, Acrocomia and Euterpe oenocarpus.
The original family name of brassicas was Cruciferae, which derived from the flower petal pattern thought by medieval Europeans to resemble a crucifix. The word brassica derives from bresic, a Celtic word for cabbage. Many European and Asiatic names for cabbage are derived from the Celto-Slavic root cap or kap, meaning “head”. The late Middle English word cabbage derives from the word caboche (“head”), from the Picard dialect of Old French. This in turn is a variant of the Old French caboce. Through the centuries, “cabbage” and its derivatives have been used as slang for numerous items, occupations and activities. Cash and tobacco have both been described by the slang “cabbage”, while “cabbage-head” means a fool or stupid person and “cabbaged” means to be exhausted or, vulgarly, in a vegetative state.