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Napa (Chinese) Cabbage 101 In Japanese Cooking; Nutrition, Shopping and Storage Tips, Recipes

naap cabbage 101 Food & Recipes

Napa cabbage has been loved as the winter vegetable by the Japanese, and it is especially the essential ingredient for Japanese hot pot (Nabe) dishes.

I don’t know whether you are familiar with Chinese Napa cabbage, but,

In Shojin cuisine, Chinese Napa cabbage is known as one of the three treasure vegetables which are believed as food for healthy living.

*Shojin cuisine…is the traditional diet style of Buddhist monks in Japan and especially grew widespread with Zen Buddhism in the 13th century.

Chinese cabbage is delicious and versatile.

You can eat fresh food, stir-fry it, sprinkle it with sauce, or stew it in a stew, soup, or hot pot dish.

Therefore, Napa cabbage called Hakusai in Japanese has been deeply rooted in the Japanese healthy lifestyle, and today, I am going to introduce all about this vegetable, and of course, I will tell you the health benefits, how to store it, and great Japanese cooking recipes using charming crunchy Napa cabbage!!!

Jamp To Recipes

Is Chinese Cabbage And Napa Cabbage The Same?

Recently, I knew that Chinese cabbage and Napa cabbage have little different terms.

Chinese cabbage (scientific name Brassica rapa, variety pekinensis) is a biennial plant of Brassicaceae rapeseed, and the general term refers to vegetables of the same family, bokchoi, Chinese white cabbage, Peking cabbage, or celery cabbage.

Thus, Chinese white cabbage and bok choy are all the same plant species.

It is called “Hakusai” in Japanese which means “the white vegetable or leaf.”

Somehow, Chinese white cabbage is often called “Napa cabbage” and Napa comes from the Japanese term, “Nappa” which literally means “a leaf/ leaves”.

(By the way, bok choy in Japanese is “Chingensai.”)

What’s The Taste Like Chinese Napa Cabbage

What does Chinese napa cabbage taste like? It’s slightly sweeter and milder taste, almost no habit, but slightly peppery than the regular, green cabbage and definitely bokchoy.

Crunchy texture in fresh dishes, and gets melty, smooth texture in slow-cooking. (but some people do “mushy”.)

The leaves near the core are very tender and sweet, to me, the taste is like Romaine lettuce when you eat it uncooked.

By the way, Napa cabbage is categorized as a cold-weather vegetable in Japan. Interestingly, the best season for Chinese Napa cabbage is after gets the frost, it’ll be much sweeter and tastier.

About Nutrition And Health Benefits Of Chinese Napa Cabbage

Even though Napa cabbage is very low in calories, (as I said, 95% of its component is water,) it has incredible nutrients that you can’t miss.

The essential nutrition in Chinese Napa cabbage is Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and folic acid, as well as potassium and calcium, outside of that, 95% is the water component.

Vitamin C promotes the production of collagen which has an antioxidant effect and repairs skin and damage the skin. It’s also well-known as one of the essential nutrition of skincare.

Vitamin K promotes blood coagulation and bone formation and is known as one of the Fat-soluble vitamins. They are absorbed along with fat in food and are stored in the fatty tissue and in the liver.

Folic acid particularly works red blood cell formation. Folic acid deficiency is known as the cause of anemia, so it’s great to take folic acid proactively in daily life.

Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte, which has the effect of helping to maintain consistent blood pressure and keeping sodium balance in the body.

Chinese Napa cabbage is super healthy and packed with nutrition, in addition, it is delicious either way uncooked and cooked added to a wide variety of dishes like salads, soups, stews, and slaws.

Shopping Tips For Napa Cabbage

The Best Season For Napa Cabbage

Today, Napa cabbage is available throughout the year at local grocery stores. Yet, the best season to buy this leafy green is in cold-weather season.

As I said, Napa cabbage in Japan is absolutely a winter crop vegetable because it is said it will become sweeter once getting frost.

I avoid buying it during the hot summer season, buy Napa cabbage from winter through early spring.

How To Pick The Good Napa Cabbage

Choose one- fresh-, vibrant, heavy, non-discoloring (yellowish, brownish), and leave are tightly wrapping.

Don’t pick the one where the bottom part is discolored.

Are Black Spots On Ribs Of Napa Cabbage Safe?

Sometimes, you will see black spots on the ribs.

In fact, neither a disease nor an insect.

It is a kind of polyphenol in which protein is changed to α-amino nitrogen.

There is no problem eating.

It is likely to occur due to excessive nitrogen fertilizer during cultivation.

Where To Buy Napa Cabbage

Honesty, I don’t buy napa cabbage in the US grocery stores since I got a really bitter one once. (and it was pricy!) I was so disappointed with the taste and price.

Since then, I have put in my effort to buy napa cabbage at Asian grocery stores (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean grocery stores) although I have to drive far because the taste and quality are much familiar to Hakusai that I have eaten. (sweeter, meaty, and tasty.)

Especially, Korean grocery stores have high-quality Napan cabbage for making Korean-famous Kimuchi.

Yet, I was very happy to napa cabbage at the local farmer’s market the other day so if you get it in the right season from the farmer, it may be successful to get a tasty one.

Of course in other states especially that have a high population of Asian residents, different situations for sure.

At Walmart, it is affordable price and it is OK in the wintertime.

Be sure to pick fresh Napa cabbage.

How To Store Napa Cabbage Fresh Longer

I talk about how to keep leafy greens fresh longer in my fridge in this post, and basically, you can use the same way for storing Napa cabbage.

As soon as you bring the Napa cabbage back home, rinse and soak the napa cabbage in water for a while until the leaves get lively.

The important key is making sure complete let inside wet too.

Cut off a browned bottom core if needed.

Don’t cut off the whole core to keep leaves attached.

You don’t need to remove outer leaves since they’ll protect edible parts dried.

Drain the water lightly. It is not necessary to drain the water completely.

Wrap wet napa cabbage with a newspaper or kitchen paper towel and keep it in a plastic bag.

Tie the bag loosely.

If your pantry or garage gets cold enough temperature in winter, you can store wrapped wet napa cabbage in those places.

It will last for 2 weeks and could be more. (Be sure to not let it be frozen.)

Remove a few leaves from the top layer if you don’t plan to use whole cabbage, and wrap it with wet paper again.

Do not cut half if you want to keep it more.

While doing this process, if the bottom color is brownish, cut it again.

How To Prepare Napa Cabbage

It’s common to use Napa cabbage for a salad here, but the Japanese often don’t eat it in that way. (At least in my home.)

However, pickled Napa cabbage is more popular than a salad.

Generally, we cook Napa cabbage for stir-fry, winter hot pot, Gyoza, and stew.

Napa cabbage can give you texture options depending on parts, cooking time, and cutting way.

When cooking napa cabbage on the stove, it’s better to change the timing to cook depending on the parts.

White parts called ribs need more time to cook than green leaves, so let’s divide white parts and leaves before throwing pots and pans.

The Cutting Tips

To enjoy this crispy texture of ribs (white parts) of Napa cabbage, cut ribs along the grain of fibers.

In this way, it not only keeps crispness but also can keep water (juice) inside so that the dish will not be watery.

For the stew or soup cut ribs diagonally into pieces across the grain.

This cutting way is called “Sogi-giri”(そぎ切り) in Japanese cooking term.

Since the cut surface comes wide and cuts the grain, it makes it easy for the flavor to penetrate and saves cooking time.

Now, you learned where to buy, how to store, and how to prepare Chinese napa cabbage. So, I will tell you some of the recipes.

Quick Swee-And-Sour Japanese Pickles

Quick Swee-And-Sour Japanese Pickles: Hakusai sweet-and-sour pikles

Quick Swee-And-Sour Japanese Pickles: Hakusai sweet-and-sour pikles

Rico McConnellRico McConnell
Super addictive sweet and sour Japanese pickles. Super easy to make. The perfect to refresh your mouth after grilled meat and Chinese food!
3.75 from 4 votes
Course Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 4 people


  • 8 large Napa cabbage leave
  • 4-5 tbsp rice vinegar/ white wine vinegar/ apple cider vinegar
  • 2-3 tbsp sugar
  • 1.5 tbsp Toasted sesame oil
  • 1 dried red chili pepper *cut half and remove seeds
  • 1 X 3 Dried dashi kelp *oprional
  • a pinch of salt


  • Divide each Napa cabbage into the ribs (white parts) and leave (green parts).
  • Cut the ribs into 1/2 inch pieces along the grain. Cut leaves into 1-inch pieces.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of salt on the napa cabbage, and leave them for 30 minutes.
  • Squeeze excess water out from the napa cabbage, and add sesame oil, dried red chili pepper, and dried Kombu oprionally.
  • Microwave a vinegar and sugar mix for 30 seconds until sugar is dissolved.
  • Combine all. Transfer the mix to a freezer bag or a container, and let it sit in a fridge for 6 hours to overnight.


©Japanmcconnell/Rico McConnell- Content and photographs are copyright protected. Sharing this recipe is both encouraged and appreciated. Copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media is strictly prohibited.
Keyword chinese cabbage, Easy, Nibbles, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Lemony! Japanese HAKUSAI Pickles Recipe

Jump to Recipe

Chinese Napa cabbage, well, let’s call it HAKUSAI on this page, it is often used for Japanese pickles called “Tsukemono”.

Especially, Hakusai is good for ASAZUKE which is lightly pickled for only a couple of hours to overnight.

Japanese pickles will be one of the Japanese food that you consider whether you like it or not, this recipe will be perfect to start Japanese pickles since lemon flavor help your taste.

You can eat this like a salad on the first day, but note that it’s going to be just like pickles (salty) as it is pickling daily.

What’ll You Need?

Preferably, these Japanese ingredients below can easily bring authentic rich savory flavor to this recipe. If you can get them, try either way to use one of them.

Dashi Kelp (Dried kelp)

Dried kelp is the basic essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

It can bring rich and deep Umami flavor easily to Japanese pickles, then the pickles will not go just bland and salty.

You don’t need to add dried dashi kelp if you don’t like the flavor, but, it can be guaranteed to bring the authentic flavor.

If you like cooking Japanese food, it’s not a bad idea to store it in your pantry.

Dried dashi kelp has a variety of kinds, and Rishiri kombu is the best for Japanese pickles.

Rishiri kombu has slightly sweeter and no-habit and has clear color in its broth.

Alternatively, you can also use Hondashi powder (preferred to use Kombu dashi powder).

About Dried Dashi Kelp (Kombu)

Chicken Bouillon Powder

As a substitute for Dashi kelp or dashi powder, you can also use “Chicken bouillon powder”.

There are roughly two types of chicken bouillon powder, regular (western style) and Chinese style, and These are handy because you can make chicken broth quickly or season dishes.

The Secret Weapon; “Asazuke” Instant Mix

I don’t want to tell you this, but there is a secret weapon to make Asazuke without collecting any condiments.

“Asazuke” instant mix called ASAZUKE NO MOTO.

As the name suggests, you can make authentic Japanese Asazuke just by mixing cut veggies and these products.

lemony quick and easy Japanese pickled recipe

Quick Japanese pickles-Chinese Napa Cabbage

Rico McConnellRico McConnell
Super easy pickling- great for starting a Japanese "TSUKEMONO" project you can attempt. Get fresh Chinese Napa cabbage, (you can also add cucumber, carrot, celery, and so on…) and optionally red chilies into unique lemony Japanese pickles. It'll be a great Summer appetizer or snack for the patio party, literally, refresh your mouth. Super healthy and easy recipe.
3.75 from 4 votes
Course Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 4 people


  • 9 oz Napa cabbage (250g)
  • 4 oz English cucumber (120g) or *semi-dried cucumber
  • 1/4 -1/2 cut Unwaxed Lemon
  • 1/2 Dried red chili pepper (without seeds)
  • 1.5" x 3" Dashi kelp (dried kelp) *or 1 tsp of dashi powder
  • 1/2 tsp Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher sea salt
  • 1 tsp Chicken soup powder *alternate of dashi kelp


  • Divide Chinese cabbage into leaves (green parts) and ribs (white parts).
    Tukemono, Japanese pickled, Napa, Chinese cabbage, Hakusai
  • Cut the ribs into 1/2 inch pieces along the grain. Cut leaves into 1-inch pieces.
  • Peel the cucumber in stripes. Slice it into 1/2 inch thick.
  • Slice 1/4 lemon thinly. (If you like lemony flavor, use 1/2 lemon.) Remove seeds as much.
  • Cut Dashi kelp into small pieces with a pair of scissors.
  • Cut dried red chili pepper into small pieces with a pair of scissors. Discard seeds. Wash your hand carefully after touching chili pepper.
  • Throw all ingredients into a freezer bag, and add seasonings. (sugar, salt, soup powder) Massage the bag 10 times.
  • Remove the air and close the freezer bag tightly. Pickle them in a refrigerator.
    Tukemono, Japanese pickled, 2
  • You can serve after 6 hours. It will last for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
    *This pickle is not fully pickled. Consume it within 3 days.
  • If you can, mix around vegetables (or just flip the bag over) once.
  • When serving, drizzle soy sauce if desired.


  • “Asazuke” is not a preserved food, please store it in a refrigerator and consume it within 3 days.
  • Adjust the amount of lemon and sugar to your liking.
  • It is not really spicy, but if you don’t like any spicy, skip the dried chili pepper.
  • Lemon slice works adding flavor, it’s not necessary to eat them together.
  • You can see corns in my picture. I just throw leftover boiled corns but it’s not on the list.
  • Use homemade semi-dried cucumber! It gives a more crunchy texture!
©Japanmcconnell/Rico McConnell- Content and photographs are copyright protected. Sharing this recipe is both encouraged and appreciated. Copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media is strictly prohibited.
Keyword chinese cabbage, cold, dashi kelp, Easy, Healthy, Holiday, Hondashi, Izakaya, lemon, Nibbles, pickled, Summer, Traditional, Vegetables, Vegetarian

HAKUSAI GOMA-AE: Blanched Chinese Napa Cabbage With Japanese Sesame Sauce

“Goma-ae” is a Japanese staple side dish to get more nutrition as dressing vegetables with sesame seeds and soy sauce.

You can eat more vegetables by boiling them quickly rather than eating them fresh.

Also, in Japan, we frequently use sesame seeds in-home cooking and they have been known as healthy food.

Thus, “Goma ae” plays a role to bring nutritious balance into the meal with vegetables and sesame seeds.

HAKUSAI GOMA-AE: Japanese Napa cabbage salad with sesame seeds and soy sauce

Rico McConnellRico McConnell
Goma Ae is a traditional Japanese side dish made with blanched Hakusai Napa cabbage mixed with a nutty toasted sesame and soy sauce. This vegetable side dish is super healthy and delicious that goes great with any meal: grilled meat, seafood, soup, and stews. Even for a healthy nibble for drinking instead of pickles, olives, and cheese.
3.75 from 4 votes
Course Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 4 people


  • 1/2 Large Napa cabbage Washed
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp hondashi powder or chicken bouillon powder
  • 3-4 tbsp Japanese dark soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp ground roasted sesame seeds *Grind the sesame seeds using a mortar and pestle, clean coffee grinder, or food processor.
  • Water to boil
  • A pinch of salt


  • In a large pot, add water and a pinch of salt and bring the water to a boil.
    *The salt increases the boiling point to cook vegetables faster, and also, enhances the vivid color and flavor of veggies.
  • Meanwhile, prepare Chinese Napa cabbage. Divide leaves (green parts) and ribs (white parts) on each leaf.
  • (White parts) Cut the ribs into about 3-inch parts against the grain, Julianne each up into 1/2-inch pieces along the grain to keep the crunchy texture.
  • (Green parts) Chop green parts as you like.
  • Blanch Chinese Napa cabbage.
    First, throw the sliced ribs into boiling water and cook for about 1-2 minutes, then throw the chopped leaves. Cook them for another 1 minute. Immediately, drain in a colander.
    *Check the napa cabbage occasionally to ensure that it does not become overcooked.
  • Drain the Chinese napa cabbage and rinse with cold water to cool the Chinese napa cabbage rapidly. Or cool them down naturally.
  • Squeeze the blanched napa cabbage with your hands thoughtfully to get rid of any excess water.
  • In a bowl, add ground sesame seeds, sugar, soy sauce, and hondashi powder. Combine them well.
  • Toss the napa cabbage together with the dressing until they’re evenly combined.


©Japanmcconnell/Rico McConnell- Content and photographs are copyright protected. Sharing this recipe is both encouraged and appreciated. Copying and/or pasting full recipes to any social media is strictly prohibited.
Keyword chinese cabbage, Easy, Healthy, Hondashi, Izakaya, Nibbles, sesame seeds, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Can You make Goma Ae with other vegetables?

Yes, go ahead to make Goma Ae made with almost any vegetable.

Spinach/ bean sprouts/ Hakusai/ komatsuna/ green beans are the most popular, but broccoli, cauliflower (grilled cauliflower is recommended to make Goma-ae!), green cabbage, kale, swiss chard, turnips, carrots, radishes, daikon radishes, potatoes, bell peppers, etc…

Seasoning Suggestions For Goma-ae

  • Whole grain mustard + Sesame Seeds + Soy Sauce + Chicken Bouillon powder + Sliced Favorite Ham
  • Sesame Seeds + Salt&Pepper to taste + Sesame oil + Bacon or Ham
  • Sesame seeds + Salt & Pepper or chicken bouillon powder + soy sauce + Japanese Mayo

Last Thoughts

If you have ever tried only Napa cabbage salad, try other recipes with this versatile vegetable! Napa cabbage has low-calorie, low-carb, and rich in vitamins!

Always pick one- heavy, firm, vibrant color with outside leaves and a bottom core.

When you keep whole napa cabbage properly, Napa cabbage will last for 2 weeks and more!

By the way, I have the salad recipe with Asian BBQ sauce.

Why not make this appetitive salad with BBQ beef! for Napa cabbage chopped salad?