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.
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.Varieties
[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 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]
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).
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
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.
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
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
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 Turnip / Daikon Radish
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)]
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.
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.