Fact Checked

What is Napa Cabbage?

S. N. Smith
S. N. Smith

Napa cabbage (Brassica rapa pekinensis) is a member of the cabbage family that originated in China several millennia ago. It is also known by the names Chinese cabbage, celery cabbage, and Peking cabbage. The plant grows in a compact, elongated head, with crinkled oblong leaves that are wrapped tightly in an upright cylinder. The leaves are light green, and the stalk area below the leaves is lighter still, a pale green approaching white.

The flavor of Napa cabbage is somewhat milder and a bit sweeter than that of regular green cabbage. It can be used raw or cooked, and the leaves can be substituted for regular cabbage in most recipes.

Napa cabbage originated in China.
Napa cabbage originated in China.

The Chinese have been growing this cabbage since around the 15th century, and it is still an extremely popular vegetable in China today, partly due to its versatility. In Korea, which has also been cultivating it for centuries, it is pickled, salted, and flavored with ginger and chili peppers to make kim chi, the national dish. Napa cabbage was introduced to North America from China toward the latter part of the 19th century, and it is cultivated in countries all over the world.

When selecting a head of Napa cabbage at the grocery store or farmstand, shoppers should look for compact ribs and intact leaves. It should have some heft in the hand. There should be no sign of yellowing or wilting, and no slimy or brown spots.

A plate of Asian-style coleslaw.
A plate of Asian-style coleslaw.

Unwashed, the cabbage will keep for about five to seven days in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator. It's best for cooks to keep the whole head sealed in a plastic bag and to not cut the leaves or ribs until they are to be used. Cut leaves begin to oxidize rapidly, and the cabbage will lose some of its vital nutrients and will spoil faster.

Napa cabbage originated in China.
Napa cabbage originated in China.

To prepare the vegetable, chefs can use a sharp knife to cut the head lengthwise in half. They should cut out and discard the core at the bottom center. The leaves can then be separated out and washed individually under cool running water to remove any dirt or small insects. They should be spun dry or patted with paper towels to remove water.

When shredded or finely sliced, Napa cabbage is often used to make an Asian-style coleslaw. Shredded leaves can also be added to a mixed green salad for a nice crunch and enhanced nutritional value. For an easy cold salad, cooks can whisk together 1 tablespoon (14.78 ml) sesame oil, 0.25 cup (60 ml) salad oil, 2 tablespoons (29.5 ml) rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon (about 13.8 g) brown sugar, 1 teaspoon (2 g) grated fresh ginger, and 1 teaspoon (4.9 ml) soy sauce. This can be poured over 4 cups (280 g) shredded cabbage, 1/2 cup (60 g) shredded carrots, and 1/4 cup (25 g) sliced green onions and tossed to coat. The salad can be garnished with toasted slivered almonds.

Whole leaves can be blanched briefly and stuffed, used to line a bamboo food steamer, or used to wrap fish before steaming. Shredded leaves are a healthy addition to stir-fries and vegetable soups.

Also called Chinese cabbage, napa cabbage is a key ingredient in Asian steamed dumplings.
Also called Chinese cabbage, napa cabbage is a key ingredient in Asian steamed dumplings.

A 1.25-cup (100 g) portion of shredded raw Napa cabbage contains less than 20 calories and has no fat or cholesterol and almost no sodium. It is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, folate, calcium, potassium, and manganese. Cabbage in general is thought to be loaded with compounds that may play a role in inhibiting certain forms of cancer development.

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Discussion Comments


The "black specks" mentioned do indeed mean that the cabbage is not real fresh, however, as long as the specks remain a millimeter or smaller in size, the cabbage is not harmful to eat, but should be eaten soon.

I have found that if I find the produce manager or store manager, I can get a discount for the "less than fresh" goods. Then I eat it as a salad with a vinaigrette or another favorite dressing, or use it in a cooked recipe.

What we call "Napa cabbage" has been used for centuries for fermented foods in Asia, and has been found to be beneficial for the human gut bacteria and enzymes and promotes good health when eaten in moderation. Kimchi is a good example, but is an acquired taste.


I just tried this cabbage for the first time the other week. I actually really liked it, which is surprising because I haven't ever liked cabbage before. We used it in a coleslaw, though, so maybe that masked the taste a little bit.


Black specks indicate that it is not fresh. I am also trying to find out if specks are safe to eat.


The tiny black flecks are called pepper spots. What I want to know is, is it safe to eat it when it has these pepper spots?


Regular cabbage hurts me, so i tried napa cabbage in my veggie soup. It's wonderful!


I purchased napa cabbage for the first time two days ago. I too, thought it looked more like a variety of lettuce because I am used to the "ball-like" appearance of local cabbage (southeast Virginia cook on the site with southwestern Virginia mountain region family roots and cooking style).

I used it to make coleslaw and it was amazingly mild yet very pretty when I ran it through the food processor. Fortunately, mine had no dark specks and it tastes wonderful. I may be a Napa cabbage girl now! I plan to introduce it to my family at my birthday party cookout in three weeks. I am sure they will love it too!

Just wanted you to know that I bought it at Wal-Mart Supercenter in Gloucester VA. Very crisp, fresh and clean and the core is very small! Enjoy all!


its supposed to have the tiny black specks on it.


I tried blanching and stuffing napa cabbage. I then baked it in a tomato sauce in the oven for one hour. The cabbage was very tough. What did I do wrong?


Dark or black specks mean the cabbage isn't fresh. If you have to pull off many leaves to get to where there aren't specks, put that one back on the shelf. I use it like lettuce, and it's really good. Has lots more nutrition than some lettuces.


I can't find napa cabbage without dark specks throughout the leaves. Does this mean it isn't fresh? I would have to discard much of it to get to the inside where it does not have these dark specs, and this cabbage isn't cheap.


I bought a head of napa cabbage for the first time and I had to throw out most of it because it had small black specks all over the leaves.

Thank you, is this the normal way it is?


This cabbage looks more like lettuce then it does like cabbage. If you grow your own, make sure to water it regularly during dry season.

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    • Napa cabbage originated in China.
      By: Leonid Nyshko
      Napa cabbage originated in China.
    • A plate of Asian-style coleslaw.
      By: Anticiclo
      A plate of Asian-style coleslaw.
    • Napa cabbage originated in China.
      By: pavalena
      Napa cabbage originated in China.
    • Also called Chinese cabbage, napa cabbage is a key ingredient in Asian steamed dumplings.
      By: ginauf
      Also called Chinese cabbage, napa cabbage is a key ingredient in Asian steamed dumplings.
    • Napa cabbage is a popular salad ingredient.
      By: Rasulov
      Napa cabbage is a popular salad ingredient.