November 2013 update: Please read the groundbreaking news about crucifers! Scientists have recently discovered that lightly steamed cabbage has more anti-cancer compounds than raw cabbage (with one exception: qing gin cai is best raw)–and that you can cook any cabbage any way you want as long as you eat a little raw crucifer in the same meal. Radish, mustard, watercress, wasabi–any raw crucifer will do.
Most people will tell you to eat cabbage for its anti-cancer compounds, but they don’t explain that how you prepare it is key. If you want to get the anti-cancer benefits from cabbage, then heed this advice:
Cook cabbage gently. Don’t braise or bake or otherwise cook it for a long time. Cooking cabbage destroys the enzyme myrosinase, which is needed to turn compounds called glucosinolates into compounds called isothiocyanates, responsible for the anti-cancer actions.
And when you cut cabbage, make sure the pieces are fairly large—a centimetre or more. (That’s a little less than half an inch, and yes, that’s big.) According to Dr. Paul Thornalley, food scientist at the University of Warwick, smaller cuts will destroy the cascade of actions that result in anti-cancer benefits. So will letting your cut cabbage sit on the counter for hours. Keep cut cabbage in the fridge where it will retain its anti-cancer properties for days, he says.
Need some ideas for consuming that sensitive and powerful head?
- Steamed cabbage—Use a steamer and a little bit of water, and cook quickly. Then add some tasty seeds or sauce. Or throw the plain steamed cabbage into a bowl of already-cooked soup (instead of cooking it for a long time with the soup, which will destroy the essential enzymes.)
- Lightly sautéed cabbage—Saute briefly in olive oil on low to medium heat. Or do a steam-saute version, meaning saute cabbage even more quickly in a dab of heated olive oil, then use a little water and gently steam to complete the cooking. To incorporate spices, sauté them in the oil first, then throw the cabbage in the pan and coat it with the oil-drenched spices. Add other veggies, too. Place the cooked mixture inside a lettuce wrap and add some Asian-inspired dressing, or use as the base for a moo shu veggie platter.
- Sauerkraut—It’s simply raw cabbage that’s been fermented, meaning healthy bacteria are added, which increases the cancer-fighting properties. Make your own. Or look for local brands that haven’t been pasteurized (heated in order to destroy germs.) Add some turmeric to mustard, then mix it with the kraut, for an even more potent anti-cancer recipe.