Flat cabbage is another name for Taiwanese cabbage. The name pretty much tells you all you need to know about this vegetable. But it’s the potential of this cabbage which makes it different from the rest—there are so many varieties of cabbage currently available on the market that you almost feel lost in a grocery store.
Flat cabbage is mostly used in Taiwanese cuisine and is greatly associated with Taiwan, so much so that people sometimes refer to it as Taiwan Cabbage. But let’s just leave the labels behind and move on to the juicy and crunchy traits of this refreshing vegetable.
I personally like cabbage for two reasons. One is that it’s a healthy way to give a crunchy texture to a meal and secondly because it doesn’t require much cooking. A sauté of 5 minutes is enough to prepare a cabbage stir-fry.
Cabbage and its varieties
There are endless varieties of cabbage, and it is almost impossible for anyone to grab just the right one for a meal. After getting into the details and learning all about cabbage, I can certainly back this claim. Earlier this year, I wasn’t even aware how many varieties of cabbage were out there as I always thought there was only red or green cabbage.
To me, the difference only existed in terms of colors.
But was I ever wrong! Even though I was using other varieties of cabbage, I wasn’t aware they were in the cabbage family, such as Bok choy. After I realized my error, I started searching for facts about cabbage which is when I learned about Taiwanese flat cabbage. So before I share everything about the flat cabbage, let me discuss some of the other varieties of cabbage out there, so you won’t be in the dark like I was.
With Red Cabbage, the leaves are packed in a round ball that appears reddish-purple in appearance. This cabbage is used to prepare coleslaw or salads.
Then comes the Napa cabbage, which are also sometimes called Chinese cabbages. They are green and white in color. The leaves are not that tightly packed, and the overall shape of the cabbage is elongated. It tastes sweeter and softer than the green cabbage.
Savoy cabbage is next on the list, and looks the prettiest of all. The leaves of savoy cabbage are chock full of veins, and have a lettuce-like texture. This means its leaves can be used for wraps and also for salads. Bok choy and Choy sum are yet another variety of cabbage.
To differentiate these from other varieties, just look at the assembly of leaves in the bulb. The leaves are long and are loosely attached together from a single bulb. Stems are broad and white whereas leaves are all green. Both are used for stir-fries.
The Taiwanese Flat Cabbage
Let’s get back on topic and discuss the flat cabbage a bit more. It is recognized through its flat and oblong shape. It looks like an ordinary green cabbage that has been stretched or pressed into another vegetable. The head of this cabbage is usually large, at about 12 inches in diameter. Sometimes the diameter is less than 12 inches.
With that diameter, the size of the leaves is also quite big. There is an outer layer of dark green leaves and inside all the leaves runs a lighter color with shallow veins. The taste of the flat cabbage is sweet, and it has a very delicate texture. Whenever it is cooked it should be cooked at low temperature and in minimal time in order to maintain the texture.
Taiwanese cabbage is grown and distributed year-round. It is not seasonal. You can enjoy it, anytime anywhere. There is no need to store them for a long duration. Just buy fresh, cook fresh, and eat fresh.
This flathead cabbage is easy to spot due to the size and shape of the head. In the summer season, the heads can grow up to 6 pounds in weight. Seasons do indeed impact the size of the head grown. In summers large-headed flat cabbages are available, and during winters you can enjoy small-headed. The taste and texture, however, remain the same.
In Taiwan, the cabbage is known by the name Li Sun Sweet cabbage or Li Sun cabbage. That is because of the region it is grown in, with the ‘sweet’ bit referring to its natural flavor. It is popular for its distinctly sweet taste.
How to use Flat Cabbage
The flat head cabbage grows into a large beautiful cabbage full of juices and sap. The outer layer of leaves has to be removed before use. In grocery stores, this outer layer is already removed so you will find them with a clean light-green appearance. You can prepare this cabbage in different styles, such as either steaming or boiling it. It can be served with fish fillets or other vegetables.
Stir-frying cabbage can help you enjoy all its flavors along with other vegetables and condiments. To make a stir-fry, the cabbage is chopped or sliced and then added to the recipe. The key is to not overcook the cabbage, or else it will lose taste, texture and essential moisture.
The fermented Kimchi of Korea is also made out of sliced flat cabbage.
There is yet another way to add flat cabbage to your meal, and that is soups. Many Taiwanese soup recipes make good use of finely sliced Taiwanese cabbage. It is usually added a few minutes before the cooking of the soup is done. This way, the texture is retained and the flavors of the cabbage are released into the soup. You can also use it in fresh salads.
Since this cabbage is named after Taiwan and associated with the country, people mistakenly assume that it can only be grown there.
But that’s not entirely true.
Flat cabbage is a vegetable grown at high elevation and in cooler climates. Any place with the same characteristics is a good place to grow flat cabbage, for example Alaska, Canada or Northern Europe.
Flat cabbage vs. green cabbage – What is the difference?
Now that we’ve learned almost all there is to know about flat cabbage, let’s draw a distinction with green cabbage. Since various types of green cabbage are used commonly in our meals, we should know what separates them.
Green cabbage is more round and spherical in shape than flat cabbage, and its wide fan-like leaves are packed tightly together into a round ball, unlike its flat counterpart. The head is very compact is always heavier than it looks. Its leaves appear glossy and rubbery in texture.
The color is light yellowish green.
Like flat cabbages, they can be used in salads, stir-fries, soups or braises. The leaves of green cabbage are also used to make rolls or snack wraps. The taste of these leaves also differ from that of flat cabbage. They taste less sweet and more peppery when raw. They become sweeter with cooking.
Sweet and Savory Taiwanese Cabbage Recipe
Though there are almost endless ways to enjoy the goodness of Taiwanese flat cabbage here is a simple and easy way to incorporate it into your routine menu. Mixed vegetables, condiments, cabbage, and garlic are all it takes for most of this recipe. Let’s get started then!
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 7 1⁄2 cups cabbage, shredded coarsely
- 1⁄2 cup grated carrot
- 1⁄3 cup green onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
Take a nonstick skillet and melt butter in it on medium heat. Stir in garlic and sauté for 2 minutes until it starts to give off a nice fragrance. Avoid burning any of the garlic during this process.
Increase the heat from medium to high then add cabbage along with green onions, carrots, cabbage, brown sugar, and vinegar. Stir cook this mixture for about 3 minutes until crispy. Add a bit of seasoning with salt and pepper and sauté for a minute. Serve warm and enjoy.
Now you see! Flat cabbage is a complete meal in and of itself and can be enjoyed in each different style of stir-fries. Earlier in this article, I tried to give a little tour of the world of cabbage as we discovered different varieties of cabbages along with the stark differences between them. Not all cabbages are same! They not only look different, but their taste and texture also vary significantly.
For each recipe, you might need a particular kind of cabbage. Flat cabbage or Taiwanese cabbages are quite commonly used in regional cuisine, but not always. It is always better to have basic knowledge of your veggies before you hit the grocery store. The similarity between the appearance of the cabbages makes it difficult to distinguish one from the other, so I hope with this article I’ve cleared that up to some degree.
I grow Copenhagen summer cabbage and it is almost identical to Taiwanese. The flavor and sweetness is the same, but it is less dense. I made coleslaw and there was no difference in taste. It is almost 90% cheaper than summer cabbage.