Red cabbage is generally smooth and round in shape, with layers of tightly packed purple-red coloured leaves. Red cabbage may have added nutritional benefits over white cabbage, due to the additional content of anthocyanins (red pigments) and has a more robust flavour. They can be smaller than white cabbages, which makes them popular with smaller households.
Maturity is based on head compactness. A compact head can be slightly compressed with moderate hand pressure. A very loose head is immature and a very firm or hard head is mature. After trimming outer wrapper leaves, cabbage heads should be a colour typical of the cultivar (green, red or pale yellow-green), firm, heavy and free of insect, decay, seed stalk development and other defects. Leaves should be crisp and turgid.
Postharvest storage temperature
Storage at 0°C optimises storage life. Early crop round cabbage can be stored 3–6 weeks, while late crop cultivars can be stored for up to 6 months. For the latter, storage at -0.5°C is sometimes recommended. Deterioration during storage is associated with stem or seed stalk growth, root growth, internal breakdown, leaf abscission, discolouration, decay and black speck. Freeze damage can occur if round cabbages are stored below -0.9°C. It appears as darkened translucent or water-soaked areas that will deteriorate rapidly after thawing.
Controlled atmosphere storage
Long shelf life can be obtained with low O2 (2.5–5%) and high CO2 (2.5–6%) atmospheres at temperatures of 0–5°C. CA storage will maintain colour and flavour of cabbage, retard root and stem growth, and reduce leaf abscission. O2 atmospheres below 2.5% cause fermentation and CO2 atmospheres >10% cause internal discolouration.
Cabbages are sensitive to ethylene, which causes leaf abscission and yellowing. Adequate ventilation during storage is important to maintain low ethylene levels. It does not increase the disorder 'black speck' or 'pepper spot'.
Store at >95% relative humidity
Disease & infection
The most common decays are watery soft rot, grey mould rot, alternaria leaf spot and bacterial soft rot. These result in a slimy breakdown of the infected tissue and may follow fungal infections. Trimming outer leaves, rapid cooling and low temperature storage reduce development of these rots.
Try eating red cabbage raw in coleslaws as an alternative to green cabbage.