Jar of Cabbage Pickled & Preserved Cabbages

These pickled products have been made in cold northern regions since the dawn of history - wherever salt could be affordably obtained. Without salt some versions could be made with vinegar. They were of critical importance for winter sustenance and to avoid vitamin deficiency diseases. With today's transportation this is no longer strictly necessary in most regions, but these products are still valued for their unique flavors and textures.

More on the Cabbage Family.

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General & History

These products are quite suitable for making in your home. but keep one thing in mind. Use natural sea salt. I emphasize "natural", because many major brands of "sea salt" are highly refined. If it doesn't seem a little moist, it's not natural.

Various pundits will tell you that "salt is salt, it's nearly all sodium chloride", but some of the trace salts in sea salt are important to proper fermentation. Of course you can buy sea salt from gourmet outlets for astounding prices, but the best place to buy the real thing at an acceptable price is from a Korean market. For details see our Salt page.


Sauerkraut   -   [Kapusta Kwaszona (Poland); Kvashenoyi Kapusty (Ukraine); Kvashenaya kapusta (Russia); Sauerkraut (German, English); Zuurkool (Netherlands); Chocrute (French); Liberty Cabbage (North America during World War I), Victory Cabbage (North America during World War II)]
Sauerkraut shreds

Sauerkraut is cabbage that is salted to a precise degree and allowed to ferment, pressed under its own brine, through several generations of bacteria until it reaches a desired degree of sourness from a final lactic acid fermentation. It is then refrigerated or canned to stop further fermentation. It is usually shredded before fermentation, but In some cases it is made with lengthwise wedges of cabbage rather than shredded.

Sauerkraut is very important to the cuisines of Germany, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Netherlands and parts of the Balkans. It is also popular in parts of France and Italy that have German exposure. Sauerkraut consumption has been declining in North America, which is not surprisingly since it is often prepared with little care.   Details and Cooking.

Pickled Chinese Cabbage   -   [Sour Snow Cabbage]
Napa Cabbage pickled

This is simply Sauerkraut made with Napa cabbage (actually a turnip green). It is often made from whole cabbages, using a long narrow cultivar rather than the short fat ones common in our markets, but may also be made from separated leaves or even shredded leaves. Naturally, the flavor is somewhat different from that of white head cabbage sauerkraut, and is often somewhat milder.

This product is usually found in vacuum packed plastic bags and should be kept refrigerated, especially after opening the package. Typically, Cabbage, Salt, Lactic Acid Culture, but may also include Vitamin C (to preserve color), Potassium bisulphate (a sterilizing agent) and/or Sodium sulphate (to preserve color).

Kimchi   -   [Kimchee]
Two Kimchis Absolutely indispensable at any Korean meal, this is a salt fermented vegetable pickle made in Korea, Manchuria, and northern China since ancient times. Napa cabbage (actually a turnip green) and Radish (daikon) are most common, but there must be at least a hundred distinct recipes that include many different vegetables. The photo shows cabbage kimchi on the left and radish on the right. Kimchi is bright red but fairly mild by Southern California standards - though folks from the Frozen North may disagree.   Details and Cooking.

Szechwan Vegetable   -   [Zha cai (Sichuan - lit. "pressed vegetable"); Cha tsai, Tsa tsai (Mandarin); Ja choi, Cha tsoi (Cantonese); Zasai (Japan); Praeserviertes Gemuese (French); Sichuan (various spellings) Vegetable; Brassica juncea subspecies tatsai]
Mustard Stem Balls

This is a salt fermented pickled vegetable made from the lower stems of a mutant mustard cultivar with strangely swollen stems. This variety appeared in Sichuan provence and first became popular there, but it is now also used in other cuisines of Southern China. It is very salty and needs to be rinsed thoroughly before use. The photo specimens, purchased out of a tub in a Los Angeles Asian market, were about 3 inches in diameter and weighed 8-3/4 ounces each.   Details and Cooking.

Salted Mustard
Salted Mustard Stem

This item is clearly made from the same swollen mustard stems Szechwan Vegetable is made from, but treated rather differently, fan sliced two ways and preserved in salt and soy sauce. This would be for the folks up north around Beijing, who appreciate chili fire even less than in Minnesota. It can be sliced up and used in stir fries. The photo specimen weighed 13-1/4 ounces - Ingredients: Mustard, Salt, Soy Sauce.

Sour Mustard Greens
Head of Mustard A very common ingredient in Chinese soups and stir fries, it's basically sauerkraut made with mustard greens. This is clearly not the same mustard plant that's well known to our Southern cuisine, but an Asian mustard called Gai Choy that has short, heavily ribbed leaves. While the photo shows a whole large head, Sour Mustard Greens are often made from much smaller plants, and smaller packages may contain only slices of the plant.

After harvest, the plants, minus roots, are naturally salt fermented or acid pickled. The photo specimen, about 13 inches long if fully stretched out, was grown and processed in Thailand, then vacuum packed in plastic. Ingredients: Green Mustard, Water, Acetic Acid, Citric Acid Salt, Monosodium Glutamate (0.10%), FDIC Yellow #5 and #6, Sodium Metabisulphite.

Tianjin Preserved Vegetable   -   [Tianjin dongcài; (China = Tianjin winter vegetable)]
Jar of Cabbage

Often still found in its traditional ceramic jars, this popular preserve is from Tianjin, a city state between Beijing and the Yellow Sea in northern China. I am surprised so few cookbook recipes call for it because it's ubiquitous availability in Asian markets would indicate wide use. In China it's used to flavor stir fries and stews. The flavor is fairly strong, reminiscent of fermented black beans.

The main ingredient is an elongated form of Nappa Cabbage similar to the one Koreans use to make cabbage kimchi. It's not actually a cabbage but a turnip green. Ingred: Tianjin Cabbage, Garlic, Salt. A version without garlic is also made for certain Buddhist sects that are restricted to bland food, but I've not noticed it in California. This product keeps indefinitely in a sealed container in a cool location.

Preserved Cabbage
Cabbage flakes This product is from Thailand and patterned after the Tianjin Preserved Vegetable, as evidenced by it's translucent plastic jar being the exact same shape as the Tianjin ceramic jar but smaller. It is, however, much lighter in both color and flavor. Cabbage 80%, Salt 10%, Sugar 5%, Garlic 5%. This product will keep indefinitely in a sealed container in a cool location.

Preserved Turnip / Daikon Radish
Whole daikon pickle In East Asian packaging the word "Turnip" actually means "Daikon Radish". Usually these daikons are a short stubby version rather than the long carrot shaped Japanese style. They are salt pickled and may be whole or more commonly are cut into strips. This product is now often sold in vacuum bags and can be kept for months at room temperature. Once opened they should be refrigerated in a sealed container and will keep for many months more.   Details and Cooking.

Preserved Turnip Greens / Daikon Greens
Preserved Greens

In East Asian packaging the word "Turnip" actually means "Daikon Radish". The greens are stronger in flavor than the roots and rather than being pickled are simply preserved in salt, lots of salt. Traditionally they were rolled up into balls weighing 1-1/2 ounces but that form isn't common now. Because they are so heavily salted, greens may be kept for months at room temperature so long as they are in a tightly sealed container so they neither dry out nor absorb moisture. They need to be rinsed well before using. Ingredients: "Turnip", Salt, Water.   Details and Cooking.

Pickled Daikon   -   [Takuan (Japan); Danmuji (Korea)]
White and Yellow Radish

This product is very popular in Japan and Korea as a side dish. In Japan and California it is also used in sushi rolls. The Japanese also have a white daikon pickled in sake with koji culture still in it.

Takuan is, of course, far better tasting and more nutritious when naturally salt fermented, but just about all you can buy around here is factory made, faked up with vinegar and salt. The real Japanese product is a yellowish color, so factory versions are dyed with food coloring - most often an absolutely hideous fluorescent yellow only an Asian could love. The photo specimens were made in Korea, 12-1/2 inches long and weighing 1-1/2 pounds each. The ingredients were Radish, Water, Salt, Vinegar, MSG, Citric Acid, Saccharin, Sodium Bisulphite, and for the yellow version FD&C Red #40. Why they sweetened with saccharin instead of sugar is totally beyond me, but these radishes did have that distinctive saccharine aftertaste.

Pickled Turnip
Bowl of Turnip Popular in the Levant, Middle East and North Africa, these turnips are almost always pickled with a few slices of beet for color. Once again, this product is far better in flavor and nutrition naturally salt fermented, but what you can buy in stores is factory made with salt and vinegar. The photo samples were Mid East brand, presumably Southern California made and listing only Water, Turnips, Beets, Vinegar and Salt. They foamed a bit on opening so there was some natural fermentation going on.

Health Considerations

These products preserve much of the healthy nutrients cabbage leaves and roots are famous for, but do include a lot of salt. Since they are mainly used as flavoring ingredients, often in modest quantity, they simply take the place of salt that would otherwise be added to the recipe.

Medical reports from Taiwan indicate women there have an elevated chance of colo-rectal cancer if they eat a lot of pickled vegetables. The effect on men is reported to be much less. The researchers studying this issue have found that eating peanuts a couple of times a week dramatically reduces the incidence of colo-rectal cancer, particularly in women.

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