Food for thought: Within the layers
If you go by its appearance, the cabbage is a simple, unobtrusive vegetable like most of its other brassica cousins. But going into the depth of its multi-layered existence, one discovers the hidden benefits of this rotundish edible.
Cabbage, known as band gobi in this part of the world, is an annual vegetable consisting of densely leaved heads. Its cousins are broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts — greens that are effective in boosting the immune system.
Cabbage has a long history of growing in the wild in England and continental Europe and is said to have been brought into human use around 1000BC. Through the centuries it became popular among the Europeans, spreading to different areas. The Greeks and Romans used it for medicinal purposes for gout and headaches. From there it went to Egypt and through trade routes to Asia and the Americas.
Cabbage heads weigh from one to eight pounds generally, and are green, purple or creamy white in colour. The heaviest cabbage weighing 57.61kg has been recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. During the 16th century, the Germans developed the savoy cabbage which is small and tastes better. Pickled cabbage or sauerkraut was used abundantly by sailors to fight off scurvy caused by lack of vegetables and fruits in the diet during their long sea voyages.
Most cabbages have alternating, thick leaves with some varieties having a waxy bloom. It can be steamed, pickled, stewed, sautéed or braised according to the taste, but savoy cabbages are most popularly used in salads. Bean curd and cabbage is popular in Chinese cooking while the British dish ‘bubble and squeak’ contains salt beef and boiled cabbage. In Pakistan it is cooked in various forms including soups and used in salads.
Like many vegetables and fruits, cabbage is believed to reduce the risk of certain cancers by preventing the growth of carcinogens in the body, as it blocks cancer causing substances by stopping them from attacking body tissues. Cabbage contains vitamins C, K, E, potassium, Beta carotene, fibre, folate and thiamine. It also helps in healing gastric ulcers. It is also known to speed up the metabolism of oestrogen in women. The vegetable contains 16 calories in an average boiled portion. But half of its properties are lost when boiled and it is best when eaten raw. Most of the nutrients are contained in its dark outer leaves.
These days a fad diet known as Cabbage Soup Diet is quite popular among weight conscious peopleand is based on the consumption of a low calorie, high fibre diet. It is a seven-day diet plan (and shouldn’t be followed for longer) and provides quick result and a great kick start for a more moderate diet. It is said that it helps lose 10 pounds (4.5kg) in a week, though nutritionists are critical of the diet and claim that it is not possible to lose that much fat within a week and that most of the weight loss is water and therefore the result is not permanent. The diet provides practically zero protein for several days at a time.
Just as it is beneficial, cabbage can also be a cause of bacterial and fungal diseases. Also, one has to be careful when eating coleslaw as it spoils easily. Additionally one has to be mindful of its side effects, such as intestinal gas which is caused due to the bacteria that are found in the intestines that break down the fibre in cabbage, causing gas. Cabbage also contains goitrogens which inhibit the formation of thyroid hormones which could cause problems for people with thyroid complications. Cabbage also acts as a coagulant so people on blood thinning medicine have to be careful while eating it.
Like all foods, excessive intake of cabbage is not good for health. While doctors specifically advise that certain foods should be avoided, moderate amount of everything is the key to health.
The word cabbage is also used as a slang; for instance, cash and tobacco are described as cabbage, cabbage-head means a fool or stupid person and cabbaged means to be exhausted. Cabbage patch dolls created history in America about two decades ago as they were extremely popular with children. The doll’s head was the size of a medium sized cabbage and hence its name.
Making use of an Egyptian recipe a local housewife has made this vegetable popular with her children. It is easy to make and requires few ingredients.
Just shred a large cabbage after washing it thoroughly. Heat five tablespoons of oil in a large pan on medium flame, add one large shredded onion and fry till it turns golden brown in colour; add the cabbage, one teaspoon dried red coarsely ground chillies, salt to taste, and mix well. Cook for 15 minutes, and then add one tablespoon sugar, one tablespoon vinegar and one tablespoon shredded ginger to it. Cook for another 15 minutes and voila, you have a tasty dish ready to serve.