I never ate cooked cabbage as a kid.  But T is a big fan of cabbage as a side dish, so in the past few years I have started to make it fairly frequently.   He grew up eating boiled cabbage with lots of white vinegar, which is a little strong for me. I typically use a few seasonings, pulling inspiration from a Joy of Cooking recipe I’ve got.  I take half a head of green cabbage, cut it in half again, core it and then shred it thinly, and boil in plenty of salted water for 4-5 minutes, or just until it’s tender and I start to smell the cabbage cooking.  Then I drain it and toss it with 3/4 tsp. of salt, 2 tbsp. of sugar, and 1/4 c. of cider vinegar.  A really good, quick side dish.

Raw red cabbage was one of my absolutel favorite vegetables as a kid, but we never cooked it.  I grabbed a red cabbage last week instead of a green one, thinking I would cook it the same way.  When I did, the colors were simply spectacular!  I knew I needed to take some pictures when we were ready to have the second half of the cabbage.

Now for the science.  When I was in the Peace Corps, I was primarily an English teacher, but my secondary project was working with a kids ecology education program called GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment).  I never had an advanced group of students to work with, but I remembered that one of the other GLOBE teachers had found an experiment for making litmus paper out of red cabbage.  So while I started out just admiring the color the boiling cabbage turned when it was cooked, once I added the vinegar I knew exactly what was going on.

Litmus paper is used to gauge pH (not just political appointees *wink*).  Acids are low on the pH scale, and compounds that are alkaline, also known as bases, are on the high end of the scale.  Pure water is completely neutral, and located right in the center of the scale.  Litmus paper turns different colors depending on which end of the scale you are on.

Well, I started with raw red cabbage, which you know is naturally a reddish-purple color.

raw cabbage

When I sliced and then boiled the cabbage in salted water, I noticed that the water almost immediately took on a lovely blue color, as did the cabbage.

cabbage water

blue cabbage

(Now, I have to admit, I’m a little confused about why exactly the cabbage turns blue here.  Typically, blue would indicate an alkaline, or a high pH.  But water is neutral, and since salts are formed specifically when an acid and a base join up with one another, they should be neutral as well.  So I’m not sure if the heat is changing the properties of the pigment in red cabbage, if the cabbage itself is alkaline, or if there is another chemical explanation for the change.  Either way, it’s pretty.  *smile*)

Once the cabbage is drained, I add the sugar and salt, toss to coat, and then pour in the vinegar.  Vinegar is, of course, an acid (things that taste sour are usually acids, while things that taste bitter are typically alkaline).  You can see the color change almost immediately, but it becomes more pronounced the longer the vinegar is in contact with the cabbage.

color change

  Tossing the cabbage to distribute the vinegar evenly will eventually change all of the cabbage from blue to pink.


By the time you plate, you should have a lovely, hot-pink side dish to accompany your meal.

pink cabbage

Now, I should say that, as fun as playing with your food may be, I actually like this particular seasoning on green cabbage better than on red cabbage.  For some reason, the extra sweetness of green cabbage works especially well with the sugar and cider vinegar combination.  But I think the color is too amazing for me to not make this version at least every once in a while.  *smile*