What is kohlrabi? What do you do with it? What does kohlrabi taste like? These are all good questions and ones I am going to answer in this ingredient spotlight! Kohlrabi is a little known vegetable and it is one I love, so I hope you try it and love it too.
While kohlrabi has long been popular in parts of Europe and in India (and other parts of Asia), it has never really caught on in the USA. Is it the shape? The knobby appearance? A chicken and egg thing where you can’t try it if you can’t find it? I don’t know! All I know is that it tastes great, has all sorts of health benefits, and belongs on your dinner table. Embrace the weird looking veggies. Life is dull if all we eat are green beans and romaine lettuce.
Where do you find kohlrabi? Your best best is at the farmers’ market or at the farm stand, though you may occasionally see kohlrabi at the supermarket.
Now let me put my food nerd hat on and tell you exactly what is kohlrabi!
What is Kohlrabi?
Kohlrabi is part of the cabbage family and is closely related to Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage (of course!), and kale. On the kohlrabi plant, a portion of the stem swells up into a round, turnip-shaped vegetable and then has a few leafy stalks growing out of it. Both the kohlrabi vegetable and the leafy stalks are edible, though there aren’t too many leaves so they are best mixed with other leaves, such as kale or the greens of turnips and beets.
Small kohlrabi (less than 3 inches in diameter) has a fairly tender skin and may not need to be peeled. However, larger kohlrabi develops two woody layers, both of which have to be removed when you’re using it. I have also noticed that the side away from the leafy stalks tends to be tougher and woodier than the top side. I slice that right off until I reach the tender vegetable inside.
There are various varieties of kohlrabi, which range in size from a few inches at maturity to as much as 10 inches and 10 pounds (the Gigante cultivar!), and range in color from white to pale green to deep purple. The flesh inside is always a light ivory color.
Given the choice, pick smaller kohlrabi (or at least small for the variety), since they do get tougher and less tasty when they have been allowed to grow too big on the stalk. Though, apparently you should get the Gigante variety if you can since, in addition to its size, its claim to fame is that it is especially tender and has no tough or woody fibers.
Where does Kohlrabi come from?
Like the other cabbage-derived vegetables, kohlrabi first developed in Europe. The question is – when!
There are two lines of thought when it come to the origin. On one hand, Pliny the Elder talked about a Corinthian turnip in the first century AD, and the description of that turnip seems to fit the looks of kohlrabi – “a Brassica in which the stem is thin just above the roots, but swells out in the region that bears the leaves, which are few and slender.” There are also reports that the Roman cookbook Apicius includes the vegetable. However, I looked at a really interesting translation and couldn’t find anything which was definitively kohlrabi. (If you’re a cooking nerd like me, it’s worth checking out even without any kohlrabi in it!)
On the other hand, we know it was cultivated in France in the 14th century and can follow its development from then until now. From France, it spread into Germany and regions of Central Europe and then into India, where it has remained a popular vegetable, and other parts of Asia. The first evidence of kohlrabi in the US is in 1806, and it has remained a little known vegetable in this country. Even today, the easiest way to be able to try kohlrabi in the US is to grow your own, though I have seen it becoming more available from small farmers in my area.
What does Kohlrabi taste like?
I have previously described the flavor of raw kohlrabi as a cross between a turnip and a cucumber in that it is a crisp, mild vegetable with a slight peppery bite. However, I should also mention that it is rather sweet, a bit like a very crisp apple. Not as sweet as an apple, but it definitely has some sugar. I recently came across a description of the flavor as being similar to jicama, and I do agree.
What are the benefits of eating Kohlrabi?
Like its relatives in the cabbage family, kohlrabi is packed full of health benefits, while being low in calories and fats. In one cup, kohlrabi delivers just 36 calories along with plenty of fiber and vitamin C. More vitamin C per bite than oranges! It also contains a fair amount of potassium, B6, phosphorus, and folate.
Kohlrabi is a rich source of glucosinolates, which are sulfur containing compounds that help with the production of indole-3-carbinol and isothiocyanates, and are helpful against various cancers, such as breast, colon, and lung cancer. As with other vegetables with this compounds, you will get more benefit by eating raw kohlrabi over cooked, since they will break down when exposed to heat.
With its low calorie amount and excellent levels of antioxidants, kohlrabi is great for nerve function, weight management, digestive health, blood pressure, bone strength, and vision health. Kohlrabi is wonderful addition to a healthy diet!
How do you cook Kohlrabi?
While I frequently simply slice up kohlrabi into a salad, there are many great ways to enjoy this vegetable! It is wonderful both raw and cooked and can be incorporated into many different recipes.
- Kohlrabi Carrot Fritters with Avocado Cream Sauce
- Shaved Kohlrabi with Apple and Hazelnuts
- Kohlrabi Home Fries
- Kohlrabi and Leek Soup
- Korean Beef Tacos with Cabbage and Kohlrabi Slaw
- Greek-Style Kohlrabi Pie
My kohlrabi recipes: