What part of cabbage do you not eat?

When it comes to cabbage, there are a few parts that are generally not eaten. The outer leaves, the core, and sometimes the stem are often discarded before cooking or eating cabbage. However, with the right preparation methods, many of these parts can actually be quite edible and nutritious.

Outer Leaves

The outer leaves of cabbage are often removed before cooking because they tend to be thicker and tougher than the inner leaves. They are also more likely to be damaged, discolored or dirty. However, the outer leaves contain the same nutrients as the rest of the cabbage and can be used if properly prepared.

Quick answer: The outer leaves of cabbage are often discarded but can be eaten if cooked thoroughly.

Some methods for using the outer leaves include:

  • Braising or stewing – The low moist heat helps soften the tough leaves.
  • Stuffing – Remove the thick stem and vein so leaves are more pliable for rolling.
  • Sauteeing or stir-frying – Cut leaves into thin shreds to cook quickly over high heat.
  • Pickling – The brine softens the texture of the leaves.

The outer leaves of cabbage also work well in dishes where the cabbage is cooked down significantly, like soups, casseroles or cabbage rolls. Just remove any damaged portions or trim off thick stems and veins.


The core is the dense, tough portion at the base where all the leaves meet. It tends to be very fibrous and difficult to break down during cooking.

Quick answer: The fibrous core of cabbage is usually removed before eating.

Cabbage cores can be used but need extended cooking times. They work best when chopped finely or grated before being cooked thoroughly in soups, braised dishes or casseroles. The core can also be fermented or pickled alongside the rest of the cabbage leaves.

Some people choose to remove only part of the core, taking off just the very bottom where it meets the roots. The upper part of the core can then be cooked along with the rest of the cabbage head.


Depending on the variety, cabbages may have thick, wood-like stems extending from the core up into the leaves. These stems are very tough and fibrous, even after cooking.

Quick answer: The tough stems are usually cut or snapped off the cabbage leaves before cooking.

However, the lower portion of the stem closest to the core can sometimes be tender enough to eat, particularly on younger cabbages. Try cutting a thin slice from the base of the stem and tasting it – if it’s tender enough, it can be left on.

Cabbage stems can also be grated, pickled, or used in stocks and soups to extract flavor. Just avoid eating any fibrous parts that don’t soften up during cooking.

Smaller & Younger Leaves

While the outer leaves should be removed, the younger, more tender leaves in the center of the cabbage head can all be eaten. These leaves are milder in flavor.

Quick answer: The small, inner leaves of cabbage are more delicate and do not need to be discarded.

In fact, many recipes specifically call for just using the central leaves. For example, stuffed cabbage rolls are often rolled in the most tender inside leaves.

The youngest, central leaves are best for eating raw in salads or coleslaw. They have a mild taste and more delicate texture than the outer leaves.

Damaged or Discolored Leaves

It’s common for the outer leaves of cabbage to become damaged, wilted or discolored during storage and transport. These leaves may be dried out, yellowed or show spots or lesions.

Quick answer: Any cabbage leaves that are damaged, wilted or discolored should not be eaten and are typically removed.

It’s best to peel off and discard damaged outer leaves to get to the good leaves underneath. The damaged sections will have poor texture and flavor. Leaves with small spots or discoloration can be trimmed. But large sections that are extensively damaged should be fully removed and not consumed.

Cabbage heads that show signs of rot at the base or extensive worm damage should also be discarded in their entirety.

Can You Eat Raw Cabbage Core?

While cooked cabbage cores are edible when prepared properly, the raw core is extremely tough and fibrous. It is not pleasant to eat raw.

Quick Answer: Raw cabbage cores are too hard and fibrous to chew easily and are not meant to be eaten without cooking.

The dense, crunchy texture and mild flavor of the cabbage heart is enjoyable to eat in coleslaws, salads and other raw cabbage dishes. But avoid eating down into the very bottom core, which remains hard to chew even with thorough chewing. For raw cabbage preparations, stop once you reach the tougher innermost core.

Nutrients & Benefits of Cabbage Parts

All parts of the cabbage contain fiber, vitamins C, K and B6, folate, manganese, calcium, potassium, and other nutrients. The outer leaves that are discarded only have slightly lower nutrient levels than the inner leaves.

Here is a comparison of some key nutrients in 100 grams of raw green cabbage outer leaves vs. inner leaves (source: USDA):

Nutrient Outer Leaves Inner Leaves
Calories 25 23
Fiber 2.1g 1.8g
Vitamin C 36mg 36mg
Vitamin K 76μg 59μg

So while not as tender or tasty, outer leaves still provide nutritional value if consumed. Preparing them properly can allow you to access those nutrients and avoid waste.

Taste Differences in Cabbage Parts

In general, the inner leaves and heart of cabbage have a milder, sweeter taste and more tender crisp texture than the outer leaves.

Quick Answer: The outer cabbage leaves are tougher and have a stronger, more cabbage-y flavor than the tender inner leaves.

Because they are more exposed, the outer leaves receive less protection and irrigation from the rest of the plant. This generally leads to increased bitterness and toughness.

The core and stem are even more fibrous and dense than the outer leaves. They can also have a bitter taste when raw due to higher levels of glucosinolates.

Cooking mellows some of the bitterness and breaks down tough fibers. But for the best flavor, the tender inner leaves are preferred raw or lightly cooked.

How to Prepare & Use Different Cabbage Parts

Here are some recommendations for making use of all the different parts of a cabbage head:

Outer Leaves

  • Braise, stew or simmer in soups and broths
  • Saute or stir-fry slices or shredded leaves
  • Roll up stuffed cabbage rolls
  • Pickle in brine or vinegar
  • Use in long-cooked casseroles or gratins


  • Grate or finely mince raw for slaws and salads
  • Cook in soups, stews and braises
  • Pickle in brine or kimchi
  • Saute chopped core to use in stir-fries or fried rice


  • Remove and discard any thick, tough stems
  • Use tender portions of lower stems
  • Grate or thinly slice stems to cook in soups, braises and other wet dishes

Inner Leaves

  • Enjoy raw in salads, coleslaws and as wraps
  • Quick-pickle tender inner leaves
  • Stir-fry thinly sliced leaves
  • Saute or braise lightly to retain crunch
  • Remove heavy core/stem and stuff/roll leaves
  • Shred lightly and add raw to slaws, tacos, sandwiches


While the outer leaves, core and stems of cabbage are often discarded, they can all be prepared in ways that make them edible and enjoyable. With the right cooking methods, even the rougher parts of cabbage can be tender and tasty. The innermost leaves and heart are most suitable for raw preparations. Understanding the differences between each part of the cabbage head allows you to make the most of this versatile vegetable.

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