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  • Lab Tested

  • People Tested

    Scientific Name:

  • Brassica oleracea var. capitata


  • Vegetables


  • Year Round (Peak: Late Fall – Early Winter)

    Natural Antiangiogenic Molecules:

  • Glucosinolates, Sulforaphane, Luteolin, Kaempferol
Basic Info

The cruciferous family of vegetables includes cabbage and its many relatives (bok choy, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower). A cultivar of the Brassica family, cabbage comes from caput, the Latin word for "head" (hence the expression: "a head of cabbage").  Wild cabbage, from which all other cabbage varieties originate, is native to the Mediterranean and was domesticated nearly 2,500 years ago. It grew in popularity across northern Europe for its ability to grow and store well in cool climates. Today, cabbage is enjoyed in many forms and preparations throughout the world, from American coleslaw to fermented German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi.

Like onions, some cabbages have a strong, even pungent taste. In onions, these flavors come from stored molecular compounds that release sulfur upon cell damage. When cabbage plants are damaged by cutting or chewing, glucosinolates, the stored, flavor precursors in cabbage, release both sulfur and nitrogen. At the same time, enzymes transform glucosinolates into isothiocyanates, which are responsible for the slight bitterness of raw cabbage. Different cabbage plant types (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli etc.) have different glucosinolate precursors and therefore different flavors. In cruciferous vegetables, glucosinolates are important for flavor but also as potent chemo-preventive and anti-angiogenic agents. 

Types & Uses

Cabbage is an annual cold-season crop because it is resistant to frost. The cabbage plant has a short stem with a crowded mass of leaves. Only the leaves are normally eatan, which are widely consumed raw, cooked, or preserved. There are many varieties of cabbages in cultivation, including dark green, white, savoy, and purple varieties. Some have tight, nested "heads" of leaves (these are sweeter and store well) while others are open-leaved (these have higher concentrations of vitamins A and C). The most common cabbage in the US is 'White Cabbage', which itself has many varieties. Chinese cabbage is a distinct species (Brassica chinensis or boy choy; Brassica pekinensis or Napa cabbage).

Raw cabbage can be shredded and used in fresh salads and sandwiches, vegetables juices, or coleslaw. Fermented cabbage forms the base of sauerkraut and spicy kimchi dishes. Cabbage is also used to make soup bases and vegetable stocks. 


Headed cabbages should be selected for crisp, tightly packed leaves attached closely to the stem. They should be dense and firm to the touch. Cabbage leaves often have a powdery waxy coating called "bloom". The goal of storage is to slow down its respiration by low temperature and minimizing exposure to the air. Whole, un-cut heads can remain in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. After cabbage is cut, it should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and used within a few days.

Growing conditions can affect the concentrations of glucosinolates, the strong, flavor precursors in cabbage plants. Warm, dry climates increase glucosinolates, so winter cabbages are best for milder flavors,. In addition, chopping cabbage increases the actual concentration of glucosinolates and facilitates the transformation of glucosinolates into isothiocyanate precursors. Combining cabbage with acidic sauces like vinegar can similarly increase glucosinolate concentrations. In contrast, soaking cabbage in water removes isothiocyanates and reduces flavor. 

Mechanisms & Evidence

Cabbage and its relatives are vegetables that demonstrate cancer-fighting properties. Glucosinolates, a mustard oil glycoside in contained within cruciferous vegtables. The enzyme myrosinase, which is stored in a separate compartment of the plant cell, is liberated when the plant is crushed or chewed. Myrosinase converts glucosinolates to the bioactive molecules isothiocyanate and indole-3-carbinol, which are both antiangiogenic. Sulforaphane, is a type of isothiocyanate and has been demonstrated to inhibit multiple pathways in tumor angiogenesis. Many studies consistently show that a high intake of cruciferous vegetables is correlated with reduced risks of developing many cancers, including those of the breast, lung, colorectal, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). The cancer-fighting compounds in cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are glucosinolates and their products. These include isothiocyanates and indole-3-carbinol (I3C). One particular isothiocyanate in cabbage, benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC), has been shown effective against breast, lung, and liver cancer cells in vitro. When administered as a drug to mice with human breast cancer cells, BITC reduced both angiogenesis (by reducing levels of pro-angiogenic vascular endothelial growth factor, VEGF) and tumor size (through cell self-suicide, or apoptosis).

In a Norwegian prospective cohort study of 13,785 men and 2,928 women over 11.5 years, the consumption of cabbage was associated with a 40% risk reduction for developing lung cancer.  Another study showed similar results for the effect of cabbage intake on squamous cell carcinoma lung cancer.  An inverse relationship has also been shown between cabbage intake and the risk of developing gastric cancer (gastric cardia adenocarcinoma, GCA) in the Netherlands Cohort Study. Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are recommended as part of a chemo-preventive, anti-angiogenic diet