Commodities / Cabbage

Flavor | Texture | Color | Size | Shape | Defects and Disease | Shelf Life | Nutritive Value
MW Vegetable Production Guide | Postharvest Information (from UC Davis) | USDA Grade Standards

High quality cabbage heads are heavy and solid with some wrapper leaves firmly attached and the stem trimmed to not more than one-half inch beyond the attachment of the outermost leaves. The genetics of a variety determine its potential for producing a high quality head, and growing conditions, pest management, harvest and postharvest practices determine whether that potential is met.

Flavor top

Cabbage flavor can be sweet, bland, or strong, depending on the variety. Strong flavors derive from sulfur-containing compounds.

Texture top

A head of cabbage should be firm and leaves should be crisp. Firmness results from the tight packing of unexpanded leaves within the head. Varieties differ in firmness. High temperatures during head formation can lead to loose heads that are not firm. The optimum temperature for cabbage growth is 60˚ to 65˚F. Excess soil nitrogen can also lead to loose heads. The time of harvest also influences firmness. Heads harvested too early will not be firm. The crispness of cabbage leaves is maintained by preventing water loss after harvest. Proper cooling to remove field heat, and storage at optimum temperature and relative humidity will help to maintain crispness. Cabbage leaves can be smooth or crinkly. Types with crinkly leaves are known as savoy cabbage.

Color top

Cabbage varieties are available in a range of colors from slightly yellow green to blue-green and purple, with the purple types called 'red' cabbage. Wrapper leaves that are discolored due to poor nutrition, insect damage, injury or diseases reduce the quality of a head. The presence of ethylene gas in the storage area will cause leaf yellowing. During several months of dark storage, green cabbage will gradually turn white due to the breakdown of chlorophyll.

Size top

The potential size of a cabbage head is determined by genetics. Early maturing fresh market varieties tend to produce the smallest heads, later maturing varieties and those grown for storage produce larger heads, and varieties grown for processing develop the largest heads. Head size is important in fresh market sales.

Growing conditions strongly influence cabbage head size. Higher plant populations lead to smaller heads. Low soil fertility also reduces head size. Phosphorus and potassium are more important during the expansion of outer leaves, while nitrogen levels are more important during early head formation. Fertilization recommendations can be found in the Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers, or consult your local Cooperative Extension Service. Other factors that stunt cabbage plant growth also limit head size. Examples include soil compaction, drought stress, and saturated soils. Within a cabbage head, the stem of the plant forms the core. Smaller cores are considered more desirable for cabbage that will be processed into coleslaw or sauerkraut.

Shape top

Cabbage head shape can be somewhat flat, round, oval or slightly pointed, depending on the variety.

Defects and Disease top


Seedstalks can be a problem in early spring planted cabbage. Prolonged temperatures below 50˚F and/or stress can trigger flowering. Elongation of the stem, called bolting, is the first visible sign of flowering. Varieties differ in susceptibility to bolting.


Tipburn is the death of the margins of expanding young leaves within the cabbage head. When a cabbage head is cut open tipburn will be visible as dark areas at the margins of young leaves. The defect is caused by a shortage of calcium associated with rapid growth and water stress. Varieties differ in susceptibility to this disorder, and using a non-susceptible variety is one of the best ways to avoid the problem.


Mature cabbage heads may split if not harvested in a timely manner. Splitting occurs when the stem and internal leaves grow after the head is mature, putting too much pressure on the leaves forming the head. It occurs more frequently after a rain. Early maturing varieties tend to split more easily; they should be harvested soon after the head reaches the marketable stage to avoid the problem.


The feeding of numerous insects can reduce cabbage quality. The larvae of cabbage looper, imported cabbageworm and diamondback moth; thrips and aphids are the most common. Control recommendations can be found in the Midwest Vegetable Production Guide or through your local Cooperative Extension Service.

Black Rot

Black rot (Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris) is one of the most prevalent diseases that limit yield and cause problems in the market place. Newer varieties are available with good to excellent resistance.

Black rot develops best when temperatures are 80˚ to 86˚F and relative humidity is high. Rain and overhead irrigation spread the bacteria from plant to plant.

Using seed that has been treated to kill the bacteria or tested and found free of the disease minimizes black rot. Rotation of fields out of cabbage and related crops is also recommended. Further control recommendations can be found in the Midwest Vegetable Production Guide or through your local Cooperative Extension Service.

Alternaria Leafspot

Alternaria leafspot (Alternaria spp.) is another common problem that can pre-dispose the cabbage to bacterial soft rot during storage. Injury to leaves from tipburn or other causes provide an easy entry for the fungi.

Rotation of fields out of cabbage and related crops will reduce disease problems. Further control recommendations can be found in the Midwest Vegetable Production Guide or through your local Cooperative Extension Service.

Shelf Life top

Cabbage can be stored up to 6 months under proper conditions.

Damage to heads during harvest, such as breakage of midribs, will reduce shelf life. Several wrapper leaves should be left on the head at harvest. Wrapper leaves not only improve the appearance of a head of cabbage, but also provide some protection from rough handling. If some wrapper leaves are left at harvest they may sustain bruising during packing and handling. The injured leaves can then be removed to present a more attractive product for sale. If there are few wrapper leaves the head appears stripped and less attractive. Wrapper leaves also help protect cabbage during storage. Cabbage that has been stored for months may show discoloration or decay of the outer leaves. These leaves can be trimmed off to produce a more attractive head. Early varieties have fewer wrapper leaves.

Cabbage should be stored at 32˚F and 95% relative humidity to maximize shelf life. Ethylene in the storage area will cause yellowing and abscission of leaves.

Nutritive Value top

Serving Size: 1/12 medium head (84g)
Amount Per Serving

% Daily Value*

Calories 25 Calories from Fat 0
Total Fat 0g 0%
___Saturated Fat 0g 0%
___Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 25mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 6g 2%
___Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
___Sugars 3g  
Protein 1g  
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 60%
Calcium 4%
Iron 0%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
(Source: Produce Marketing Association's Labeling Facts, February 1994.)
Cabbage; common; raw; 1 cup
Weight of Household Measure % Water Food Energy
K cal
 Protein Fat Saturated Fatty Acid Mono - unsaturated Fatty Acid Poly - unsaturated Fatty Acid
70g 93 15 1g  0g 0g 0g 0.1g
Cholesterol Carbohydrate Calcium Phosphorus Iron Potassium Sodium Vitamin A (IU)
 0mg 4g 33mg 16mg 0.4mg 172mg 13mg 90
Vitamin A (RE) Thiamin Riboflavin Niacin Ascorbic Acid      
9 0.04mg 0.02mg 0.2mg 33mg
(Source: USDA. Nutritive Value of Foods (HG-72), Release 3.2. 1990.)


Content authors: J. Neibauer and E. Maynard, 2002. Links updated January 2012.