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How to store cabbage to preserve quality

Storing cabbage correctly is important to preserving its quality. Proper storage methods will help to slow down the respiration, or "breathing" of the cabbage. This is important because the faster the cabbage "breathes", the quicker the cells metabolize and the cells' metabolic processes begin to break down, and the sooner the vegetable begins to spoil. Therefore, to preserve its flavor, color, texture and nutrients, we need to slow the metabolic rate. Here's how:

Refrigerate. Chilling the cabbage slows its rate of respiration. At 59°F (15°C), both red and green cabbage give off carbon dioxide at a rate of 32 milliliters per kilogram per hour. Chinese cabbage breathes at a much faster rate. The temperature of most home refrigerators, 41-46°F (5-8°C), is an appropriate temperature range for keeping cabbage chilled in order to preserve its quality. Keeping the cabbage cold will also help to retain its vitamin C content.

Keep it wrapped. Wrapping cabbage in plastic* and storing it in the crisper section of your refrigerator limits its exposure to air flow, and thus reduces respiration and retards spoilage. Just as importantly, plastic wrap keeps external moisture out, preventing mold and rot, while helping the cabbage to maintain its internal (cellular) moisture-without which, the cabbage leaves lose their firmness and begin to wilt.

While plastic wrapping does help to preserve the quality of the cabbage, it does carry some concerns. Plastic residues from the wrapping have been found to migrate into food at refrigerator temperatures and even though the residues are in very, very small amounts, they still must undergo detoxification by the body. Additionally, plastic wrapping carries with it an environmental burden as is it non-biodegradable and in most parts of the country, non-recyclable.

Convenient alternatives to plastic wrapping include reusable, tightly-locking Tupperware-type plastic containers or Pyrex-type containers with rubber or plastic gaskets, both of which should be closely matched in size to the head of cabbage.

Handle with care. If you need to store a partial head of cabbage, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Since the vitamin C content starts to quickly degrade once the cabbage has been cut, you should use the remainder within a couple of days. Also, handle cabbage carefully to prevent bruising. Any kind of cell damage degrades vitamin C content.

* Some plastic vegetable storage bags have tiny air holes, and do a better job of reducing surface moisture and air flow, and minimizing spoilage. Better still are the ones that absorb the carbon dioxide the cabbage expires, dramatically improving storage life. But plastic alone will not prevent loss of vitamins, which is why chilling is also necessary.