What Is German Cabbage?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Cabbage is a key ingredient in many German recipes, from slaw and soup to salad and side dishes. The country's signature sauerkraut is famous the world around, but not everyone likes its tartness. Utilizing the red variety of the produce, the German cabbage dish is not as sour as its famous cousin. That is due to the addition of grated apples and cider vinegar, which create more of a sweet-and-sour effect and makes the dish end up a deep shade of purple or red.

Since cabbage translates to German as kraut or kohl, German cabbage is often referred to as rotkohl, or "red cabbage." To get the coloring as dark as possible, ingredients are sliced or grated as finely as possible. This is particularly true of the red cabbage, which should be halved, cored, and then finely shredded to ensure its pigmentation is evenly distributed throughout the dish.

Except for the seeds, the grating of one apple for every head of cabbage is an important part of the dish. Most people use red apples because of the coloring, but green apples will give an added element of tartness. Some cooks also add shavings of sweet onion to this mix before fermentation begins as well as some pieces of charred bacon, which will add a savory effect.


This slaw will simmer over medium heat in a sweet bath of vinegar, water, sugar and a few spices for at least a half-hour, having water added when it starts to evaporate. It should be kept covered except for during occasional stirring. For one head of red cabbage, the approximate combination will be equal parts 0.5 cup (118 ml) of water, cider vinegar and sugar, along with a dash of spices like clove, pepper and even a bay leaf. This will create a deep red liquid that should quickly ferment and color the German cabbage.

This common side dish is removed from the heat once the vegetables have lost all crunchiness but still retain their tenderness. The bay leaf is removed, and then a little red wine or lemon juice can go in near the end of the cooking process for some added bitterness and tartness. If the German cabbage needs some thickening, a little flour or corn starch would not be unprecedented. Sweeter versions often leave out the wine in favor of melted butter that is whipped until airy and poured in with the lemon juice to finish everything off.


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