Cabbage is a round leafy vegetable that is high in vitamins and very versatile. While cabbages have likely been around since around 1,000 BC, they are indeed a man-made vegetable because like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli, cabbage is the result of several crossbreeding techniques done in the past.
Cabbages have smooth leaves and firm heads and come in three main types: red (purple), white, and Savoy (green). This article will explore about the amazing history of the cabbage.
No one knows for certain when cabbages first came on the scene, but it is thought that cabbage has been around since Antiquity, which encompasses the period of the 8th century BC to the 6th century AD.
Most experts estimate that cabbage was very likely domesticated in Europe somewhere before the year 1,000 BC. During the Roman Empire, cabbage was considered a luxury table item, and it was a very important part of much European cuisine by the Middle Ages.
Check out this video for an ancient Roman recipe using cabbage.
Starting with the Renaissance, new variations of cabbage were introduced, mostly by populations who spoke German. Savoy cabbage, which has a familiar green color, was developed in the 16th century.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, cabbage had become a basic staple food in places such as eastern, central, and northern Europe. In fact, many European sailors at that time ate cabbage when they were away at sea for long periods of time in order to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C.
After the late Middle Ages, and through around the year 1800, cabbage really took off because it began being exported to the Americas, Asia, and most of the rest of the world. It is interesting to note that before cabbage crops were domesticated, people collected them from the wild and used them for medicinal purposes only.
The cabbage vegetable comes from a group of plants called the cole crops, with the word “cole” being loosely translated as “stem.” Other veggies in this group include kale, collard greens, cauliflower, and kohlrabi, among others.
Cabbages usually weigh one or two pounds, and even though most people think of green cabbages first, there are also purple cabbages and Savoy cabbages, the latter consisting of both colors and being very rare.
The biggest cabbage on record was recorded in 2012, and it weighed a whopping 138 pounds. Cabbage is from the Brassica oleracea cultivar and is a biennial plant that is grown as an annual vegetable.
While not a lot of cabbage’s history is certain, we do know that wild cole crops, which include cabbage, can be found growing along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Europe. It is likely that cabbage and kale originated in western Europe, and broccoli and cauliflower in the Mediterranean region.
When it comes to their domestication, kale and cabbages were among the first of the cole crops to become domesticated, and it is thought that this domestication occurred around 2,000 years ago.
Cabbage is grown in numerous countries across the globe, but the biggest producers of this vegetable include the following:
- China: 33.8 million tons per year
- India: 9 million tons per year
- South Korea: 2.5 million tons per year
Other large producers of cabbage include Russia (2.4 million tons), Ukraine (1.6 million tons), Indonesia (1.4 million tons), and Japan (1.3 million tons). The U.S. ranks tenth at around 890,000 tons per year.
Other countries in the top ten include Romania and Poland, both of which rank just about the U.S. To put everything in perspective, keep in mind that China produces nearly half of the world’s production of cabbage, as the total of cabbages grown annually is around 70 or 71 million tons.
Once again, it is difficult to get an exact timeframe on anything related to cabbage, but we do know that commercial cabbage farming has very likely taken place since before the year 1,000 BC in Europe.
Savoy cabbages, however, did not develop until the 16th century AD. In the U.S., the first cabbage was brought over by a French explorer by the name of Jacques Cartier. This was in the early 1540s, but cabbages weren’t just used for sustenance at that time.
Many ship doctors, in fact, used cabbage that was preserved in brine – known as sauerkraut – to prevent gangrene by treating sailors’ wounds with it.
We know there were natural cabbages in the beginning, because even 3,000 years ago, cabbage was being domesticated from a form of wild cabbage.
This cabbage had leaves that were very thick because they had to retain water, which allowed them to survive in places that were very cold and therefore had to go long periods without rain.
Even today, you can still find wild cabbages growing in western and southern Europe. Wild cabbage seems to survive as long as the temperature doesn’t get below -9 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is a very sturdy plant.
Cabbage is a very easy vegetable to grow and can be grown in USDA growing zones 1-10. Each zone has recommended varieties, however, and below are some of those varieties:
You can probably guess by its name that this cabbage doesn’t take long to be ready to pick. You can usually harvest them in about two months, and they can weigh up to two pounds.
If you have a small garden, this type of cabbage is a good option. They are also popular because they are juicier and sweeter than many other types of cabbage.
Red Acre cabbage is a bright purple veggie that is perfect for zones 3-9. They can weigh up to four pounds and are ready to harvest in 90 days or less.
Cabbage is man-made but started as an improvement on the wild cabbage found in Europe. Today, there are three main colors of cabbages, and they can be eaten raw, cooked, pickled, or even roasted thanks to their versatility.