a large napa cabbage is laying on a table on display representing what is napa cabbage

What Is Napa Cabbage? (Uses, Benefits & More!)


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What is napa cabbage? – If you’ve never tried this delicious and peculiar type of cabbage before, get ready to fall in love, because today we’re going to talk about what napa cabbage is and everything you need to know about it!

Ah – napa cabbage a cruciferous vegetable that belongs to the Chinese cabbage family – that we just can’t get enough of! It’s known for its faboulus crunch, and delicate flavor that can be described as slightly sweet and peppery. Napa is delicious eaten raw, cooked on it’s own and mixed into a variety of Asain dishes. Making it a versitle ingredient you’ll want to start keeping on hand.

Odds are you’ve come across this cabbage before as it is often used in salads, slaws and stir-fries. Along with its versatility it has quite an impressive array of vitimans and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and K, as well as antioxidants. Not to mention it also has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce the risk of cancer. Needless to say… it’s pretty great!

In this blog post, we will discuss the uses, benefits, and nutritional value of Nappa cabbage. We will also provide some tasty recipes for you to try!

So… What Is Napa Cabbage Exactly?

In a nutshell, napa cabbage is exactly what its name implies, a cabbage, but not the regular cabbage we all grew up eating. This one is juicy, light-colored, with long leaves that flower off of thick, bright white ribs and a fresh fragrance. It looks a bit like a cross between romaine lettuce and Swiss chard, but with a paler green coloration.

Napa cabbage is not as well known in Western cuisine as it is in Asian. However, it has slowly begun to spread throughout the world, and we beat if you looked at your local grocery store you’d find one!

What’s The Difference Between Napa Cabbage And Regular Cabbage?

One of the most noticeable differences between napa cabbage and “regular” cabbage is the shape. Regular green and red cabbage has a shape we are all familiar with, round. This is because its firm, almost rubbery leaves fold inward, forming something like a tight soccer ball. In contrast, napa cabbage has a peculiar shape, which reminds us of a somewhat leafy lettuce with leaves that are not as firm or rubbery, rather crispy.

There is also a difference in flavor, which, although not as noticeable, is still there. Ordinary cabbage has a sweet flavor with a light peppery kick, and while napa cabbage is also sweet, it is slightly sweeter and milder than its counterpart. Yes, they are both cabbages, but as you can see, that doesn’t mean they are the same.

What Does Napa Cabbage Taste Like?

If you’re looking for something milder than green and red cabbage, napa cabbage is the way to go as it has a sweet and not-so-pungent flavor. When cooked, the sweetness intensifies a bit, but not to the point of being overwhelming.

As for its performance in the texture department, napa cabbage meets every expectation, as it has a crunchy texture that becomes softer when cooked, but without completely giving up its crispy nature.

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Is Chinese Cabbage The Same As Napa Cabbage?

Most Americans call napa cabbage “Chinese cabbage,” but in reality, Chinese cabbage is a group of leafy-cabbage vegetables, and within that group is napa cabbage. For example, we can say that napa cabbage is a type of Chinese cabbage, but not all Chinese cabbage is napa cabbage, as there is also bok choy.

Among the few that differentiate the types of Chinese cabbage by their actual names are the Asian markets, and if we can be honest, that should be the norm in every grocery store. Several times people have tried to sell us bok choy instead of napa cabbage because “they are the same thing, Chinese cabbage,” and we are sure that we are not the only ones who have experienced this!

Where Does Napa Cabbage Come From?

Now that you know what napa cabbage is let’s see where it comes from! And no, it doesn’t come from Napa, California… We know many of you thought it did.

The first thing you need to know about its origins is that there are no concrete records, but it is believed that it was first grown near the Beijing region of China around the 15th century. Then, in the 1980s, 95% of sales at Beijing’s wholesale produce markets came from napa cabbage. It was so widely consumed that it eventually earned the title of China’s “patriotic cabbage,” something encouraged by the government at the time.

Botanically speaking, it’s a cruciferous vegetable, a type of cabbage from the mustard family — Brassicaceae — whose scientific name is Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis. It is believed to be a cross between a turnip and bok choy, and although it’s technically a biennial vegetable, it is typically grown as an annual crop in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Fun-Fact: Although napa cabbage did not originate in Napa, California, rumor has it that it was named after the Napa Valley, where it was first grown in the U.S. around 1880. However, there is also another theory that claims that napa cabbage is named after the Japanese word “Nappa,” which is a general term for greens.

What Is Napa Cabbage Used For?

If you still don’t know what napa cabbage is used for, we’ll sum it up for you in two words: Asian cuisine! Asian cuisine is as vast as the ocean, and the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans all use the protagonist of this post to please their taste buds.

For instance, in Japanese cuisine, napa cabbage is used to prepare okonomiyaki, a grilled “omelet” with various ingredients. In Chinese cuisine, it is used for… Many things! That’s where it is said the napa cabbage was born, and you can find it in stir-fries — like lo mein —, dumplings, lion’s head meatballs, suan cai — pickled cabbage —, and more. And last but certainly not least, in Korean cuisine, napa cabbage is the star of one of the most well-known — if not THE most well-known — dishes of their country, kimchi.

But hey, napa cabbage is not only useful in Asian cuisine. Outside of it, it also serves as a side dish or as a key ingredient for soups, casseroles, stews, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and much more.

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Health Benefits/ Nutrition Facts Of Napa Cabbage

Napa cabbage not only has an interesting flavor profile, but it also has the attributes of being inexpensive, filling — great if you’re on a budget and need to feed a large audience —, and most of all, nutritious. Here are some of the multiple nutrients and health benefits you can get from it:

  1. It is a low-calorie vegetable.
  1. In addition to carotenes, thiocyanates, lutein, and zeaxanthin, napa cabbage has high concentrations of antioxidants such as sulforaphane and isothiocyanates.
  1. It also provides a considerable amount of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble, which strengthens the digestive system, may offer protection against different types of cancer, and could reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol” levels in the blood.
  1. Has a good amount of vitamin C, B group vitamins — like thiamin and riboflavin —, and vitamin E.
  1. It’s rich in vitamin K, which promotes blood coagulation.
  1. Important minerals like calcium, iron, and copper can all be found in this cruciferous.
  1. Packs a high concentration of vitamin B9, making it an excellent source of energy and a great ally to keep blood pressure stable.

Difference Of Napa Cabbage From Other Cabbage Variants

We usually don’t give much thought to cabbage. After all, it is a veggie that we simply shred or boil to accompany other dishes. However, cabbage is no ordinary vegetable — there is much more variety in cabbage than we think. In contrast to popular belief, it comes in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and flavors, not just the traditional green cabbage.

So, what distinguishes napa cabbage from the rest of the family?

Let’s start with the most obvious point: its shape. What does napa cabbage look like? It doesn’t look like head cabbages such as red cabbage or savoy cabbage, nor like cabbages with long stems like bok choy — which we’ll talk about later —, and even less like brussels sprouts. Napa cabbage has an oblong-shaped head, a completely different shape.

Now, on to the flavor: red cabbage is sweet but earthy and peppery, savoy cabbage is also earthy but not peppery, and brussels sprouts are slightly sulfuric, nutty, and sweet. However, napa cabbage is not earthy, peppery, or nutty, but mild and sweeter than all of the above.

Finally, in terms of odor, napa cabbage takes the crown for being the least odorous. It is well known that when cooking almost any type of cabbage, it tends to give off a sulfur smell, like ammonia, but fortunately, napa cabbage does not have such an intense smell. Yay!

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Common Napa Cabbage FAQs

Can I Buy Napa Cabbage Year Round?

Yes – you can! Napa cabbage is available year-round. However, they are a cool weather crop, just like any cabbage. Some plant it in early spring for midsummer harvesting, and others start it in mid to late summer for harvesting during the cold days of autumn, winter, or early spring. Napa cabbage can handle both warm and cool weather, but the general idea is to let the cold weather coax out its sweetness.

Where Can I Buy Napa Cabbage?

You can find it in the greens section of almost any grocery store, but if you don’t find it or want to get the best quality napa cabbages, go straight to your local Asian market. You will definitely find them there!

How Do I Pick Out A Good Napa Cabbage?

A good quality napa cabbage, is a cabbage with bright white ribs and firm, crisp healthy leaves when choosing a one. Make sure the leaves are not dry and have no yellow or dark spots.

Pro-Tip: As an extra quality consideration, check the bottom of the napa cabbage, where it was cut. Make sure it looks clear — even a little brown is okay —, but if you see browning or cracks around the bottom of the ribs, just put it right back where you got it.

What Is Another Name For Napa Cabbage?

Celery cabbage, dàbáicài in Chinese — which literally translates to “big white vegetable” —, pe-tsai, hakusai in Japanese, baechu in Korean, and even Beijing cabbage, as it was widely consumed in that region. Honestly, napa cabbage has more nicknames than we give our pets.

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What Can I Substitute For Napa Cabbage?

You can substitute green cabbage, swiss chard and even bok choy for napa cabbage, depending on the recipe of course. Actually, you can replace lettuce with napa cabbage in almost any type of salad!

Are Bok Choy And Napa Cabbage The Same?

While napa cabbage and bok choy come from the same family — brassica —, they are not the same thing. On one hand, bok choy has a completely different shape than its counterpart, resembling a cross between celery and Swiss chard. On the other hand, napa cabbage has a distinctive oblong shape, as if it was a lovechild of romaine lettuce and Swiss chard. And flavor-wise, bok choy has a slightly more pronounced flavor, with peppery undertones.

Can I Substitute Napa Cabbage For Bok Choy?

Bok choy and napa cabbage are quite similar in terms of flavor and texture so that you can substitute one for the other in almost any situation. Like bok choy, napa cabbage becomes soft — without losing all its crispiness — and absorbs the flavors of the surrounding ingredients when cooked, so it’s perfect for complementing a stir-fry or a soup that originally calls for bok choy.

Can I Use Green Cabbage Instead Of Napa Cabbage?

For salads, and slaws yes, you can easily use green cabbage instead of napa cabbage, and as for stir-fry recipes or kimchi… Again, yes! However, it would be best if you kept in mind that green cabbage may take a bit longer to cook or ferment since its leaves are thicker.

Can You Eat Napa Cabbage Raw?

Yes! If you can use napa cabbage for salads, of course you can eat it raw! In fact, it has a slightly different taste than when it is cooked. Now, is it safe to eat it raw? For the most part, yes, but that’s a topic for another post.

Do You Eat The White Part Of Napa Cabbage?

The white part of the napa cabbage (rib) is tougher than the leaves, but that’s not a deterrent to enjoying it too! In fact, in most recipes that call for this leafy vegetable, the ribs are not chopped off, but rather cooked whole.

How Do I Properly Store Napa Cabbage?

In order to properly store napa cabbage, you do not need to vacuum seal it or maintain a specific temperature inside your fridge. You can simply place it in the vegetable compartment as you would do with other veggies, thus keeping it fresh for up to 1 week. However, if you want it to stay fresh for up to 2 weeks and prevent it from wilting, you can wrap it in plastic wrap or put it in an airtight container inside the fridge.

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Different Recipes That Call For Napa Cabbage

We already mentioned several ways to consume napa cabbage, mostly Asian dishes, but there’s a world of other ways to enjoy napa cabbage — and more than you think! Let’s take a look at 3 simple recipes that you can make from the comfort of your own kitchen:

We’re used to using lettuce, spinach, green cabbage, and nothing more in our salads, but once you make this nappa cabbage coleslaw with Greek yogurt, you’re sure to want to use napa cabbage for many other salads. Yes, we know that mixing napa cabbage with Greek yogurt isn’t necessarily traditional, but trust us, greek yogurt is a healthy and yummy treat for the palate — especially if you use one of the yogurts we mentioned in our post on the healthiest Greek yogurts out there!

However, if you still don’t know what to do with napa cabbage besides preparing coleslaw, we have another delicious recipe for you: napa cabbage “steaks”! That’s right, traditionally steaks are meat, but if you’re into a vegan lifestyle, this hearty, flavorful dish will do the trick. You’ll feel salty, sweet, and spicy notes in every bite, and best of all, it’s simple and quick to prepare. BTW, don’t forget that you can add a topping like slivered almonds or adjust the recipe to your liking!

Looking for a fresh, light meal? If that’s the case, look no further, because with this napa cabbage summer rolls recipe you can give a green twist to the classic Vietnamese dish. Instead of using rice paper to wrap the filling — which consists of chicken, carrot, and cucumber —, fresh napa cabbage leaves are used, and as a special touch, they are dipped in an equally delicious spicy peanut sauce. Just the thought of it makes our mouths water!

Napa Cabbage – Final Thoughts

We hope this blog post has provided you with an interesting introduction to Napa cabbage, including its uses and benefits. What is life if not picking up lots of little tid-bits like this one to make every day a little bit brighter? Go further and impress your friends with your all your amazing cabbage knowledge! Be sure to check out our website for more interesting blog posts and recipes! Thanks for reading!

Have a favorite napa cabbage recipe or a cooking question of your own? Leave it in the comments below!

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