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Kohlrabi: The Cool-Weathered, Out-of-This-World Vegetable

Botanical name: Brassica oleracea

kohlrabi

While most crops wither in frosty weather, the same cannot be said for kohlrabi (pronounced “cole-rah-bee”). Known for its bizarre appearance but extremely hardy nature, this unique cruciferous vegetable is certainly not lacking in flavor and nutrition, making it highly deserving of your attention (and a space in your pantry). Keep reading to discover more interesting facts about kohlrabi.

What Is Kohlrabi?

It might look like something that’s extraterrestrial in nature, but kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes1), also called knol-khol,2 is actually native to northern Europe3 but now thrives all over the world today. Its name comes from the German words “kohl” and “rube,” and literally translates to “cabbage turnip.”4

Its appearance, however, is another matter. It looks like a turnip with leaves growing from it and standing out like spokes.5 But what kohlrabi lacks in beauty, it makes up for in flavor. It’s described to have a “sweet flavor that’s somewhere between a turnip and a water chestnut, with a crisp, crunchy texture.”6

Despite its bulbous appearance, kohlrabi is not a root crop. Kohlrabi is a brassica and is in the same plant family as cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.7 It grows above the ground, and not under the soil, and the bulb that’s commonly used for cooking is actually part of the plant’s stem.8

The kohlrabi plant is classified as a perennial, and thrives in temperate climates, although it grows best in cool season. In the U.S., kohlrabi is available from spring to late fall in different growing regions. You can choose from over 22 different kohlrabi plant varieties, varying in color, size, resistance, flavor and shape. The most commonly seen types are white, green and purple kohlrabi, which all have white flesh underneath.9 There are also kohlrabi varieties that have a longer shelf life than other types, such as Gigante and Kossak kohlrabi.10

Kohlrabi is one of the most versatile vegetables around. It can be cooked as you would carrots or turnips, and tastes great in salads, pies, or simply grilled or roasted. Kohlrabi can also be eaten raw (and this may be the best way of all to enjoy them).

Don’t disregard the kohlrabi leaves – they’re edible, too. Kohlrabi greens can be enjoyed just like spinach, beet greens or collard greens, with a taste that’s reminiscent of kale and collards.11 They can be served cooked, either steamed or sautéed with other vegetables, or added raw to salads. It’s best to harvest them in early spring to ensure you get flavorful and tender leaves.     

Kohlrabi Nutrition Facts

Just like the diversity it offers in terms of culinary uses, kohlrabi offers a wide array of benefits for your body as well, owing to its various nutrients, as listed below. In terms of calories, kohlrabi should not be feared, as it only has 36 calories in every 135-gram serving.

Kohlrabi Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 100 grams, raw
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 27  
Calories from Fat 1  
Total Fat 0 g 0%
Saturated Fat    
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 20 mg 1%
Total Carbohydrates 6 g 2%
Dietary Fiber 4 g 14%
Sugar 3 g  
Protein 2 g  
Vitamin A1% Vitamin C 103%
Calcium2% Iron 2%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie

Don’t Miss Out on These Kohlrabi Health Benefits

Kohlrabi is rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as B-vitamins. It also contains copper, manganese, iron, potassium, dietary fiber and calcium, and is rich in antioxidant compounds like phytochemicals and carotenes as well.12 With this bounty of nutrients, it’s not surprising that kohlrabi offers immense body-wide benefits. Organic Facts lists some of the ways that kohlrabi can benefit your health:13

  • Promotes digestive health
  • Helps with weight management
  • Keeps nerves and muscle functioning optimally
  • Maintains healthy blood pressure levels
  • Boosts bone strength
  • Promotes vision health
  • Maintains your healthy metabolism

One standout vitamin found in kohlrabi is vitamin C – in fact, this vegetable has more vitamin C than an orange, with 62 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams, or about 102 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).14 This water-soluble vitamin is vital for maintaining healthy connective tissues, teeth and gum, as well as for immune system health.15

Kohlrabi also has phytochemical antioxidants that may have cancer- and inflammation-protective effects, and may help lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and other diseases.

Sulfur-containing compounds calledglucosinolates,which are found in kohlrabi, may also have anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and antibacterial benefits. Kantha Shelke, a food scientist at Corvus Blue LLC and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), told TIME:1617

"Kohlrabi's chemopreventive effects makes it particularly healthy … Kohlrabi contains isothiocyanates which are effective against cancer. The chemopreventive compounds are more bioavailable from fresh–about three times as much as from cooked–kohlrabi.

 The higher bioavailability is associated with a higher chemopreventive activity, which might be the reason why raw kohlrabi is preferentially consumed by health-conscious people."

Tips in Growing Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi can be bought in most organic farmers markets. When buying kohlrabi, remember that larger bulbs can be tough. Opt for medium-sized bulbs that feel heavy for their size. Check the leaves as well – they should be intensely green and crisp-looking. Do not buy bulbs that have soft spots or yellowing leaves.18

Nevertheless, you can grow this hardy vegetable in your backyard (if the weather in your area permits it). Kohlrabi thrives best in well-drained, fertile soil and needs average sunlight to flourish.19 Home Grown Fun offers helpful tips in growing kohlrabi in your garden:

  • Although kohlrabi plant benefits from sunlight, brand new seedlings may need some shade, especially if the weather is hot.
  • When planting kohlrabi seeds, make sure they’re one-fourth to one-half inch deep in the ground, with 6 to 8 inches of space in between. Do not overcrowd them, as this may cause the plants to compete for nutrients and may also block the sunlight coming in. This will delay the formation of the bulbs.
  • Kohlrabi should be free of weeds and consistently well-watered. If not watered enough, the plants may become stressed and will not produce bulbs.
  • Kohlrabi should be harvested at their prime – don’t wait for them to become overgrown. It usually takes six to seven weeks for a kohlrabi plant to reach maturity.

Once harvested, kohlrabi leaves and bulbs should be kept in the refrigerator, where they will stay fresh for at least a few weeks.

How to Cook Kohlrabi Bulbs and Leaves: Recipes You Can Try

Whether mashed, sautéed, grilled, roasted, kohlrabi is certainly one of the most versatile vegetables you will come across. Kohlrabi salad and soup recipes are becoming popular today, mainly because this cruciferous vegetable works great in these dishes. Different cultures around the world also have different ways of cooking kohlrabi, making use of this crop in various creative ways.

Shelke says that in countries near the Equator, kohlrabi is often grated and transformed into kohlrabi fritters, pancakes or flat breads. In India, pickled kohlrabi mixed with turmeric powder, salt, dry mustard powder, oil and vinegar is a well-loved treat, and is served with yogurt and bread. This is also how kohlrabi is enjoyed in Tibet, Nepal and northern China.20

If you want to try cooking kohlrabi, here’s an easy recipe you can try:

Kohlrabi Healthy Recipes:
Carrot and Kohlrabi Slaw

Kohlrabi Healthy Recipes
Ingredients:
1 large kohlrabi, peeled, stems trimmed off, grated 1/4 head purple cabbage, shredded 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated 1/2 red onion, grated
4 tablespoon chopped cilantro 1/4 cup golden raisins (optional) 1/4 cup mayonnaise 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey 1 teaspoon salt    

Procedures:

  1. In a large bowl, mix the kohlrabi, carrots, cabbage, onion, cilantro and raisins (if using).
  2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the cider vinegar, mayonnaise, salt and honey.
  3. Pour the dressing over the slaw, and mix until all the ingredients are fully coated. Chill for several hours before serving.

(Recipe adapted from The Kitchn21)

While cooking kohlrabi leaves and bulbs may seem like a great idea, remember that they retain most of their nutritional value when eaten raw. Simply peel, slice, and sprinkle the bulb with salt, and then eat it raw. As for the leaves, use them as a replacement for your typical salad greens.



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