Monday, March 21

What's the Difference Between Red Cabbage and Radicchio?

red cabbage and radicchio
Red cabbage on left; radicchio on right.

Last time I was at the supermarket, the cashier picked up my head of radicchio and punched in the code for red cabbage. The price came up as 70 cents.

I said, "Actually, that's radicchio, not red cabbage."

She voided it and punched in the correct code for radicchio. The new price came up as $5.50.

"Wow! That's expensive!" she said. "You should just get the red cabbage instead."

Get the red cabbage instead? Is she serious?

So what's behind this $5 difference between red cabbage and radicchio? Is it cabbage inflation? Is the Mafia getting kickbacks on radicchio sales?


red cabbage and radicchio
Red cabbage on left; radicchio on right.

Red cabbage and radicchio may resemble one another, but when it comes to flavor, they're  as different as traditional broccoli and bitter broccoli rabe. So what is the difference between radicchio and red cabbage?

Radicchio (pronounced ra-DEEK-ee-o) is a leafy member of the chicory family, often called Italian chicory, which explains its bold, bitter flavor. Although it's compact like red cabbage, radicchio's leaves are thinner and more tender unlike red cabbage's firm and waxy texture.

Red Cabbage is a variety of cabbage with reddish purple leaves. It's flavor and texture is similar to green cabbage.

When you're at the supermarket, here's how to tell the difference between radicchio and red cabbage:

Radicchio is burgundy-red with white streaks. It's light when you hold it in your hand and soft to the touch. The price ranges from $3-6 a pound.

Red Cabbage is actually more purple than red and is uniform in color. It's heavy, firm, and has a waxy finish. The price is typically under $1 per pound.

Both have their places in the kitchen, but just remember, they are not interchangeable. Red cabbage is best in slaws or simply slow-cooked and served with pork or beef. Radicchio is wonderful raw in salads, grilled and used as pizza topping or sauteed and tossed with pasta.

When when you want a bold Italian salad, you've got to go with radicchio. Due to its bitterness, radicchio pairs best with sweet, salty and acidic ingredients such as oranges, prosciutto and balsamic vinegar. That's why this early spring Radicchio and Orange Salad with Citrus-Champagne Vinaigrette, is so pleasing.

So next time you're at the market, don't let the cashier guilt you into buying red cabbage instead of radicchio. Just smile, pay the price, then reward yourself with an unforgettable radicchio dish when you get home.

radicchio and orange salad with champagne vinaigrette

Radicchio and Orange Salad with Citrus-Champagne Vinaigrette
Makes 2 main or 4 side servings
Printable recipe.

1 medium head of radicchio
1 large or 2 small sweet oranges, such as Navel or Valencia

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
The zest of 1 large or 2 small oranges
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large bowl, toss radicchio and oranges.

2. In a small bowl, whisk vinaigrette ingredients. Pour over salad, and toss well. Taste it, and adjust seasonings as desired. Let sit for 20-30 minutes before serving so the radicchio becomes infused with the vinaigrette. 

*Add thinly sliced fennel bulb and toasted pine nuts.
*Add crispy pan-seared prosciutto and toasted walnuts.
*Add sliced or shredded cooked chicken and crumbled blue cheese.

You might also enjoy these recipes featuring radicchio:
Grapefruit Radicchio Salad recipe from Cooking With Amy
Roasted Radicchio and White Beans recipe from A Sweet Spoonful
Radicchio Hazelnut Blue Cheese Salad recipe from The Dinner Files
Linguine with Grilled Radicchio and Bacon recipe from A Big Mouthful


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Now I wonder if I've sometimes cooked radicchio masquerading as red cabbage! Great tips - and I'm willing to make the investment to get a taste of your wonderful salad recipe!

Joanne said...

I always find it so funny and weird that grocery cashiers (especially those at Whole Foods!) know so little about produce. But thanks for clearing it up! I love radicchio's bitterness and the ingredients in this salad sound like they compliment it perfectly!

Simona said...

Interesting story, Susan. I would not have thought it possible to mistake radicchio for red cabbage. It is clear that she never tasted radicchio. Not to berate red cabbage, but there is no comparison.

Maria said...

They are both beautiful. Love the colors!

The Teacher Cooks said...

Great information! I've never used Radicchio before, but have had it in a salad. Sounds intriguing in pasta

Kathy - Panini Happy said...

Wow, you are one honest lady, Susan! :-) It hadn't occurred to me there was a difference, I haven't bought either too often. Very glad to know now!

Lauren Wilkinson said...

I love this post, Susan! I've never been brave enough to use radicchio solo in a salad (always tossing in other milder lettuces), but I love how this recipe lets it stand on its own and shine. Although, I'm already dreaming of something involving warm goat cheese alongside...goat cheese grilled cheese sandwich?

Alexandra said...

Thank you so much for the info! I've had both, and like both. While reading your post, I was wondering what the difference between the two was nutritionally. So I looked it up - I was REALLY surprised by what I found! The site (the best) has the nutritional values of both for 1 cup serving size, raw. Red cabbage has 19 more calories, both have no fat, and both have 1g protein. Red cabbage also has 15g more sodium. But red cabbage has all the vitamins! While radicchio has 0% vit A, 5% vit C, 1% calcium and 1% iron, red cabbage has 20% A, 85% C (!!), and 4% calcium and iron. I couldn't believe it!

Jocie's Mom said...

I never knew! Thanks for enlightening me :)

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed by your integrity. This happened to me once and I did not say anything to the cashier.
I hope they serve Italian salads in h*ll...

Susan from Food Blogga said...

TW-Ha! I'm sure you haven't. You're too savvy of a shopper.

joanne-It's true. I think managers should start giving them produce tests. ;)

simona-I agree. I'm sure she has never tasted it since, as you say, the flavors are markedly different.

maria-Thank you!

teachercooks-I'm not sure your school kids will love it since it's bitter. But I hope you try it soon.

ChichaJo said...

Thanks for the tip! Although we hardly ever get radicchio here :( said...

Susan, this is so funny. I am right now working on a guest post about radicchio for a friend's blog, and the very same thing happened to me--I was charged for cabbage rather than radicchio. This was years ago, though. I guess radicchio still isn't as commonly known as it should be. The salad looks so appetizing. Cheers

Cookin' Canuck said...

Great post on the difference between the two, though I can't actually imagine confusing them (taste-wise, anyways). That salad is so colorful and fresh.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I rarely ever buy radicchio unless it's for a special salad I"m making. I guess that's why I don't remember how expensive it is! Maybe I should put off buyingit again until the outdoor farmer's markets season hits and I start seeing it there? Then I wouldn't be able to try your lovely salad though!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

BTW, I appreciate your honesty! I might not have said it was radicchio to the chasier. ;-)

Lucy@acookandherbooks said...

I'm all for cashiers passing produce tests. Rhubarb is "red celery" at my store. And the recipe looks like a winner (even at $5.50 for a head of radicchio.)

Tim Vidra said...

A great read I really enjoyed this. I guess it could have been worse like cauliflower and broccoli? Geez.


Anonymous said...

How fortuitous! My toddler son picked up a radicchio and insisted he wanted it - he meant for the red cabbage. I've been scratching my head thinking of how to prepre it. Will give this a try! Thank you, Susan.

LiztheChef said...

Beautiful photos. Not too much of a radicchio fan but I use red cabbage in slaws. Most of the raddichio I have tasted is awfully bitter. Great anecdote!

Cookie baker Lynn said...

I love those pictures and the recipe looks wonderful!

Cooking with Haiti in Mind said...

Thank you for the clarification. Now I know

Susan from Food Blogga said...

joey-Aw, that's too bad. You're missing out.

domenica-Nope. It's not nearly as well known as it should be. Though I guess it's better for you and me, right?

cookincanuck-That's just it. I don't think many people have ever even tasted it.

sdoc-It's not too common at our farmers' markets, but if you can get it locally and seasonally, then I'm sure you'll save some money.

lucy-Red celery? Good grief. ;)

tim-That couldn't really happen, right? right? ;)

ricekernel-He's a budding foodie! yay!

liz-I grew up on the flavor, so I love its bitterness. But it's not for everyone.

lynn-Thanks so much!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

cwhim-Oh, you're most welcome. Hope your site is up soon!

Magic of Spice said...

Great post and love the salad, great for Spring!

Margot said...

What a informative post. I would never expect that they are diffrent, I would just think that is some strange red cabbage... I must go and look for radicchio now to try it, thank you Susan :)