When it comes to kohlrabi (cole-rah-bee
), the adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies. Take one look at a fresh kohlrabi, and you may think a mini alien spaceship had landed at your farmer’s market or in your CSA (community supported agriculture) veggie share. Don’t let kohlrabi’s exotic name and peculiar looks deter you from trying this mild-tasting and nutritious vegetable.
Kohlrabi is a German word that literally means cabbage (kohl
) turnip (rabi
). It is not, however, a cross between these vegetables. Botanically, kohlrabi is related to cabbage and broccoli. And, although kohlrabi is turnip-shaped, it is neither a turnip nor a root vegetable.
When it comes to its strange looks, kohlrabi earns nicknames like “alien vegetable” and “sputnik vegetable.” Just above ground level, its stem swells into a small, turnip-shaped bulb with white, pale green or purple skin. Slender stalks resembling spinach or broccoli leaves emerge like tentacles, growing upward from the top and sides.
Kohlrabi, a native of Northern Europe, is an easy to grow, cool-weather crop with two main seasons: spring and fall. In the United States, look for white, pale green and purple varieties at farmer’s markets and specialty food stores. All have the same green-tinged, ivory colored flesh. For best flavor and texture, select small, young kohlrabi, no larger than 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
The entire vegetable is edible. The bulbous stem tastes like fresh, crunchy broccoli stems while the leafy appendages remind one of kale and other greens. Eat young and tender kohlrabi bulbs raw, thinly-sliced with a little salt, or diced and julienned for slaws and salads. Kohlrabi is also delicious cooked – try it roasted, grilled, stir-fried or simmered in soups and stews.Kohlrabi Facts and Figures
Kohlrabi, Brassica oleracea
Group), belongs to the Brassicaceae
(mustard) family that includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts and offers similar nutritional benefits. Kohlrabi is an excellent source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C and potassium with a negligible amount of fat and no cholesterol. One cup of raw, diced kohlrabi contains about 36 calories.
Like other members of the Brassica
family, kohlrabi contains glucosinolates, a phytochemical that may protect against certain cancers and other diseases. A Brief History of Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi originated in northern Europe and descended from the wild cabbage. According to legend, around 800 AD, Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, ordered kohlrabi grown throughout his empire which included parts of modern-day Germany. This may account for the fact that kohlrabi is German for cabbage turnip
Written records from the mid-1500s indicate kohlrabi’s presence in Germany. By the end of the 16th century, kohlrabi was known in Germany, England, Italy, Spain and eastern Mediterranean countries. In the 1600’s, kohlrabi made its way to northern India where it became a staple of the Hindu diet.
First records of kohlrabi’s presence in the United States date to around 1800. Although a popular vegetable in Europe and other countries, kohlrabi never gained favor in the United States.
Today, Germany is the world’s largest producer and consumer of kohlrabi. Kohlrabi is also common in the cuisines of India, Israel, China and Africa. In the United States, American chefs and households are rediscovering kohlrabi thanks to the proliferation of farmer’s markets, home vegetable gardens and community supported agriculture (CSA).
How to Select Kohlrabi
In the United States, look for white, pale green and purple kohlrabi in farmer’s markets and specialty food stores. Kohlrabi is a cool weather crop with two main growing seasons: spring and fall.
In the spring, the best kohlrabi is young and two inches or less in diameter with healthy, unblemished skin and leafy appendages still attached. The stem bulb should be firm and crisp and the leafy appendages, green and unwilted. These are best for eating raw. Larger kohlrabi tends to be woody and fibrous with a tough outer layer that must be peeled before cooking.