A couple heads of napa cabbage on a table

Can you eat napa cabbage raw?


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Can you eat napa cabbage raw? – The answer is yes, yes you can! Napa cabbage is a delicious and nutritious vegetable that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, including raw. In this post we’ll dig into napa cabbage in all its raw glory – so keep reading to learn more than you ever wanted to know about this cabbage delight.

It’s crispy, it’s crunchy, it’s leafy, and most importantly, it comes straight from one of the world’s richest and most gastronomically diverse continents, Asia. That’s right; we’re talking about napa cabbage — again!

In our previous post about napa cabbage, we talked about what exactly napa cabbage is, and its origins, mentioned some recipes you could make with it, and briefly touched on whether it can be eaten raw or has to be cooked no matter what. However, we got a lot of questions about that last point — we hear you, salad lovers! —, so we decided to get down to the nitty-gritty and dig deeper into whether you can eat napa cabbage raw or not.

Spoiler alert: get ready to head to your local Asian market, because napa cabbage is more versatile than you think!

Is it safe to eat raw napa cabbage?

If watching YouTube videos is part of your daily routine, you’ve probably come across — at least once — channels of people eating in front of a camera. Yes, that’s their career, and yes, they get paid for it, but that’s not the point — the point is that those types of videos are known as mukbangs, and in some of them, you can see big, green napa cabbages being quickly consumed in their raw state. Whole, not even in salads.

During our research for this post, we saw several of these mukbangs, and many of the featured YouTubers even dipped the napa cabbage leaves in mayonnaise and sour cream dips as if they were a crunchy snack. That’s what sparked our curiosity about whether it’s safe to eat raw or not, as it’s well known that we humans often eat foods that, while edible, aren’t entirely safe to eat (we’re looking at you, pufferfish and rhubarb leaves).

So, is it safe to eat raw napa cabbage? Good news: yes, it is safe to eat raw! If you wash it thoroughly with plenty of cold water before eating it, of course — we don’t want E. coli hanging around. However, if you suffer from hypothyroidism, there is a disadvantage to eating napa cabbage that you’ll want to know about. We’ll talk about it below, so keep scrolling!

Can you eat Napa cabbage raw like lettuce?

Napa cabbage is part of the large cruciferous family, where we can find the good ol’ lettuce, so naturally, many people want to make salads with it… Without even knowing if they can eat it raw in the first place.

To quickly answer the question of whether you can eat napa cabbage raw or not, here’s a simple question: have you ever eaten cabbage salad? If not, you should because any salad that requires lettuce can be replaced with napa cabbage. In fact, almost any food that requires lettuce — like burgers or wraps, just to name a few — can get a fun twist with raw napa cabbage, as it is the most tender cabbage variety and has a unique flavor. But wait… Is it safe to eat, though?

Are napa cabbage and Chinese cabbage the same thing?

While napa cabbage is a type of Chinese cabbage, not all Chinese cabbage is napa cabbage — even though not every grocery store knows the difference.

If there’s an Asian market near you, it’s safe to say they’ll label each Chinese cabbage by type, but if you’re not that lucky and have to resort to a regular grocery store to stock up on a couple of napa cabbages, keep a picture in your head of what they look like! Some grocery stores put several Asian greens alongside napa cabbage — like bok choy — under the same “Chinese cabbage” label without specifying its type, so just make sure you’re buying the right thing.

Can you eat napa cabbage raw wraps Can you eat napa cabbage raw? Vegetables

What does napa cabbage taste like in its raw form?

Cooked napa cabbage has a soft texture and a sweet and slightly bitter taste when cooked, but when uncooked, it has a crisp texture and a milder sweet taste. Delicious!

P.S: A notable plus of napa cabbage is that it lacks the characteristic strong sulfurous smell of other cabbages that many people dislike. It still smells a bit when cooked, but if you’re eating it raw, you shouldn’t worry about that.

Everything you need to know about raw Napa Cabbage

Now that you know that napa cabbage can be eaten raw, a whole world of culinary possibilities awaits you! This sweet, crispy, and tasty variety of Chinese cabbage is a great option if you want to experiment with dishes that traditionally call for lettuce, adding a crunchy touch and some moisture.

For example, you can add it to salads with celery slices, carrots, chestnuts, snow peas, and other vegetables, all tossed in your favorite homemade or store-bought dressing. Plus, coleslaw, one of the world’s oldest and most beloved dishes, can be made with raw napa cabbage! 

On the other hand, if salads aren’t your thing, you can use it as a garnish for tacos, on burgers, and sandwiches, or as a vessel for chicken wraps, which can be a great and quick meal for any occasion. However, if you really want to know a creative, refreshing, and vegan way to eat raw napa cabbage, let us introduce you to one of our most recent yummy finds: tofu-mushroom napa cabbage wraps!

Lettuce wraps are one of our favorite things to order at P.F. Chang’s, but while the chicken is what makes those wraps so addictive, sometimes we just want to leave the animal protein on the side and lean toward greener alternatives. That’s why this recipe from Glue & Glitter hit the spot for us, especially because the use of napa cabbage leaves as little beds for the tofu is both clever and tasty.

Is there an advantage or disadvantage of eating raw Napa Cabbage?

In all honesty, there are not many significant advantages of eating raw napa cabbage other than having more possibilities to experiment with dishes, saving time — cause well, you don’t have to cook it —, and maybe benefiting in a better way from its nutrients — more on that later —, but as for its disadvantages… We have to discuss them.

The least important one is that napa cabbage might not taste to your liking, but the most important one has to do with its components, more specifically, glucosinolates.

Glucosinolates are chemicals found in all cruciferous vegetables that give cabbage its distinctive odor, and while they may seem harmless, they also have another characteristic — they may interfere with the production of thyroid hormone by disrupting the thyroid’s use of iodine.

If you have a normally functioning thyroid, this shouldn’t worry you at all, but if you suffer from hypothyroidism or iodine deficiency, napa cabbage may do you some harm. In other words, if you eat napa cabbage and you have hypothyroidism, this cruciferous won’t straight up send you to a casket, but it can interfere in some way with the proper functioning of your thyroid.

Is Napa cabbage better for you, cooked or raw?

Honestly, it depends. Most veggies can be eaten raw, just like most fruits, and regardless of which vegetable you choose to eat, when it comes to its nutritional value, it will almost always be higher in its raw form than cooked. So if proper nutrient intake is something you care a lot about, we recommend you eat it raw.

Now, if you suffer from hypothyroidism, it’s best to cut back on cruciferous vegetables in general. But if you love napa cabbage and can’t imagine a life without it, we recommend that you only consume less than half a cup of napa cabbage per day and that you cook it, as cooking lessens the properties of the glucosinolates.  

Other than that, whether you choose to enjoy napa cabbage raw or cooked is entirely up to you and your taste.

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What are the benefits of eating raw Napa cabbage?

Besides saving you time and giving you more options for dishes, are there any other notable benefits to eating raw napa cabbage? As we previously mentioned, when eaten raw, this type of Chinese cabbage can be a great ally in keeping all the “healthy” checkboxes in our health department ticked off by ensuring that the presence of certain nutrients is not minimized. But if you don’t remember what are some of the nutrients and health benefits of eating napa cabbage — which we mentioned in our previous post —, let’s do a quick recap: 

  1. It’s packed with antioxidants that include vitamin C, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane.
  1. Its high vitamin B9 content helps keep blood pressure stable by opening blood vessels, facilitating blood flow.
  1. It’s very good for strengthening the digestive system as it is a good source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber.
  1. If you have an iron deficiency, add it to your kitchen, as it excels in the iron department, which keeps red blood cells healthy.
  1. Last but not least, it is extremely low in calories! If you want to stay healthy, napa cabbage is definitely for you.

Can you eat the whole napa cabbage?

The leaf of the napa cabbage has two parts, the top part, which is soft but crunchy at the same time, and the bottom part, where the leafy-ness dissipates as white “veins” emerge, which extend all the way to its white rib.

Most people who are not so familiar with napa cabbage will think that you can only eat the leaves, after all, the ribs and veins are too tough for any salad or dish… Right? Well, not really. In many salads, the napa cabbage is cut from the leaves to the base and added whole, as it is perfectly edible and adds extra crunch.

Do you eat the white part of napa cabbage?

While the white part of the napa cabbage (rib) is tougher than the leaves, you can still eat it. Of course, eating it without chopping it first can be tricky, but if you chop it and use it as a garnish for tacos or put it in a salad, you can enjoy it without any trouble.

Bottom line 

Honestly, when it comes to napa cabbage, it really doesn’t matter if it’s raw or cooked — it’s great either way! With its multiple health benefits and interesting flavor profile, it’s easy for any cook to fall in love with this leafy cruciferous, especially when you have so many options for enjoying it raw. You can start adding it to your cuisine in your favorite burgers or your finest tacos al pastor, and once you’re familiar with raw napa cabbage, you can venture into preparing Asian-style salads or wraps.

As we said at the beginning of the post, the possibilities are endless when it comes to napa cabbage! You just have to give it a shot 😉

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