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Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage) Nutrition facts

Napa cabbage, along with bok choy, is one of the favorite leafy-cabbage vegetables in mainland China. Napa’s sweet, crunchy, and celery-flavored leaves are one of the most sought-after ingredients in the far East-Asian cuisine. Undoubtedly, Chinese cabbages are increasingly being used in the western, Mediterranean as well as American cuisines for their wholesome nutrition profile.

Botanically, this chinese cabbage variety belongs to the Brassica family; a large class of leafy/flower-head vegetables which also includes brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and broccoli, etc. Scientific name: B. campestris (Pekinensis group). Some of the common names of napa are pe-tsai, 白菜, celery cabbage, Chinese white cabbage (dàbáicài, 大白菜), Peking cabbage, won bok (wombok), napa (Japanese), hakusai (白菜, Japanese), pao, hsin pei tsai, kimchi cabbage, etc.

Napa cabbage
Fresh napa-cabbage.
Photo courtesy: mdid

Napa cabbage is an annual, cool season vegetable. It grows best when the days are short and mild. As in cabbages, napa grows to oblate shaped heads consisting of tightly arranged crinkly, thick, light-green leaves with prominent, pale white veins. At its core, the leaves feature smooth, light-yellow hue.

napa cabbage
Napa cabbage. Photo courtesy: Ilovebutter

There exist two major types of napa cabbage; Chilili and Che foo. Chilili types produce cylindrical heads, measuring about 18 inches long and 6 inches wide, featuring erect, upright growing habit. Che-foo type forms compact, round head of green-blade with white-petioled leaves.

Health benefits of Napa (Chinese) cabbage

  1. Napa cabbage is an incredibly low-calorie green-leafy vegetable. 100 g fresh leaves carry just 16 calories. Along with celery, bok-choy, etc., it easily fits into the neo-class of zero calorie or negative calorie group of vegetables as oftentimes advocated by dieticians.

  2. Napa packed with many antioxidant plant compounds such as carotenes, thiocyanates, indole-3-carbinol, lutein, zeaxanthin, sulforaphane and isothiocyanates. Also, it is an abundant source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Scientific studies suggest these compounds are known to offer protection against breast, colon, and prostate cancers and help reduce LDL or "bad cholesterol" levels in the blood.

  3. Fresh napa is an excellent source of folates. 100 g provides 79 µg or 20% of daily required levels of this B-complex vitamin. Folic acid is one of the essential components of DNA. Sufficient amounts of folates in the diet in anticipant mothers may help prevent neurological diseases in newborn babies.

  4. Further, Napa cabbage has great levels of vitamin-C. 100 g of fresh napa provides about 45% of the daily requirements of this vitamin. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.

  5. Likewise in other cabbages, napa too has moderate levels of vitamin-K, provides about 38% of RDA levels. Vitamin-K has a potential role in bone metabolism by promoting osteoblastic activity in bone cells. Therefore, sufficient levels of vitamin K in the diet make the bone stronger, healthier and help delay osteoporosis. Further, vitamin-K also has established a role to play in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain.

  6. Napa cabbage has small levels of vitamin-A. However, it also contains flavonoid polyphenolic compounds such as carotenes, lutein, and xanthin which convert to vitamin-A in the human body.

  7. As in other green vegetables, it is a good source of many essential vitamins such as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine (185 of RDA) and thiamin. These vitamins are essential in the sense that our body requires them from external sources to replenish.

  8. Also, it is a very natural source of electrolytes and minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is the chief component of cell and body fluids and helps in regulating heart rate and blood pressure. The human body employs manganese as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for the red blood cell formation.

See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:

Napa Cabbage (Brassica rapa (Pekinensis group)), Fresh, Nutritive value per 100 g. (Source: USDA National Nutrient database)

Principle Nutrient Value Percent of RDA
Energy 16 Kcal <1%
Carbohydrates 3.23 g 2.50%
Protein 1.2 g 2%
Total Fat 0.32 g 1%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 1.2 g 3%
Folates 79 µg 20%
Niacin 0.400 mg 2.50%
Pantothenic acid 0.105 mg 2%
Pyridoxine 0.232 mg 18%
Riboflavin 0.050 mg 4%
Thiamin 0.040 mg 3%
Vitamin A 318 IU 11%
Vitamin C 27 mg 45%
Vitamin K 42.9 mcg 38%
Vitamin K 2.2µg 2%
Sodium 8 mg 0.5%
Potassium 238 mg 5%
Calcium 77 mg 8%
Iron 0.31 mg 4%
Magnesium 13 mg 3%
Manganese 0.190 mg 8%
Phosphorus 29 mg 4%
Zinc 0.23 mg 2%
Carotene-ß 150 µg --
Carotene-α 1 µg --
Lutein-zeaxanthin 48 µg --

Selection and storage

Pests commonly infest leafy-greens like napa cabbage. Oftentimes, conventionally grown napa may have been subjected to insecticidal sprays. Therefore, wash thoroughly in cold running water followed by soaking in saline-water for about 30 minutes. Rinse again in clean water before using.

In the groceries, buy fresh, crispy, compact napa cabbage. Avoid those with yellow, dry, worm-infested, and old stocks.

At home, store napa cabbage as you would do for other greens, inside the refrigerator set at high relative humidity. Use it while farm fresh to get maximum nutrients.

Preparation and serving tips

Trim base, and remove any outer, discolored leaves. Wash the whole vegetable in cold water. Gently pat dry, or place it upside down until all the water drained out.

To prepare, trim its base using a paring knife. Then, pulling by hand, separate leaves from the base. Thus, once you separated its leaves from the stalk, you may want them to add to a variety of recipes either combined or separately.

In the Far-Eastern regions, on average each person consumes about a pound of fresh leafy-cabbage class vegetables per day either in the form of raw greens, in stews, or as pickled (kimchi).

Here are some of the preparation tips:

kimchi friesd rice
Korean kimchi fried rice!
Photo courtesy: LWY
  • Sweet, crunchy, flavorful Chinese cabbage can be eaten raw, added to salads, sandwiches, and burgers.

  • As in other cabbage verities, napa too can be used to prepare coleslaw.

  • Napa cabbage, also popular as "pe-tsai," is one of the popular vegetables employed in Korean fermented dish-kimchi.

  • In Thailand and other East Asian countries, shredded napa cabbage is steam cooked with rice wrapped in plantain leaves and served with stews.

  • In China and other East Asian region, it is used like cabbage in stir fries with added onion, garlic, bell pepper and green chilies mixed with steamed rice and soy/chili/tomato sauce to prepare fried rice, egg rice noodles, chow mein (stir-fried noodles), etc.

  • Both bok choy and napa are wonderful vegetables used generously in modern-day stir fries, soups, stuffing…etc.

Safety profile

Likewise in other Brassica family vegetables, napa cabbage also carries certain chemical compounds in it known as "goitrogens." Prolonged consumption of brassica group vegetables may result in the swelling of the thyroid gland, a condition known as goiter. Therefore, it is advised to limit brassica vegetables in the diet in people with thyroid dysfunction. However, it can be eaten without any reservations in healthy persons. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further reading:

  1. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk. (Link opens in new window).

  2. USDA National Nutrient database.

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