All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Hakusai napa cabbage

Brassica rapa var. pekinensis

Also called nappa cabbage, hakusai has oblong yellowish-green leaves with white firm ends toward the bottom. Inner layer leaves are yellower and taste sweeter than outer green layers, and the sweet taste becomes more prominent in winter – the best season for this vegetable -- and when cooked. In broth, for example, hakusai makes the broth mellower and milder. Along with shungiku garland chrysanthemum, hakusai is the standard leafy green in a number of nabe hot pots. In addition to use in simmered, sauteed and steamed dishes, hakusai is also often used as a pickle. For Japanese pickles, hakusai can simply be salted and pressed to extract the water, while kombu seaweed or citrus peel provides flavor and aroma variations. Kimchi and la bai cai with sweet and spicy vinegar are quite common in Japan, too.

Hakusai ranks third, following daikon radish and cabbage, in volume among vegetables grown in Japan. While it seems that hakusai has been used in Japanese cooking forever based on today’s penetration, the current type of firm head hakusai became part of the everyday Japanese diet only in the 20th century. The vegetable itself arrived in Japan before the 16th century, but for hundreds of years growers repeatedly failed to bring out a consistent form and quality due to its tendency to cross-pollination.

Hakusai's mild taste and high water content (95%) make it seem to be not nutritious. However, hakusai contains isothiocyanate (the substance that gives a spicy taste to daikon radish and kabu Japanese turnip), which is known to promote digestion and prevent blood clots and cancer. Hakusai also contains dithiol thionin, which generates an enzyme that detoxifies carcinogenic substances. Moreover, hakusai is rich in potassium (220 mg/100 g), calcium (43 mg), Vitamin C (19 mg) and  fiber (1.3 g in total; 1.0 g  soluble & 0.3 g non-soluble).  All in all, hakusai is effective for relieving constipation, promoting diuretic activity and beautiful skin as well as preventing colds, arteriosclerosis and cancers.

When buying hakusai, select ones that feel firm and tight in your hand. As hakusai becomes more widely available in the US, I see more with loose heads with greener outer leaves, which make it taste similar to green-leaf lettuce – perhaps as part of adaptation to the local diet, where raw salad seems to be the dominant way of eating leafy greens. Asian grocery stores usually carry hakusai with tight, firm heads.

14 kcal/100 g; 95.2% water, 0.8% protein, 0.1% fat, 3.2% carbohydrate, 0.6% ash

Recipes with hakusai

Try hakusai in the following recipes

(Last updated: April 28, 2018)

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