Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea Gongylodes group — gongylodes, meaning knob-like or swollen)
Often called the German turnip, kohlrabi takes its name from the German words Kohl, meaning cabbage (there’s that wild cabbage again!) and the Swiss-German Rabi, meaning turnip. The German word, Kohl, is the root of the whole group commonly referred to as Cole Crops. To confuse matters further, the German word for turnip is not Rabi, but Rübe: And Kohlrübe, in German, is a rutabaga, not a turnip. Dizzy yet?
Regardless of the root of the word, this selectively bred variant of wild cabbage is prized for the swollen lower stem (meristem), which grows above ground, not as a swollen root like a turnip. Although the leaves of kohlrabi are edible, with a flavour and texture similar to collards and kale, it is the swollen stem that is sought after. This resembles an apple in texture, with a mildly sweet flavour reminiscent of mature broccoli stems, with a hint of onion. It is a useful, crunchy vegetable that can be enjoyed raw or cooked. Kohlrabi is a biennial plant, so if you’re growing it for seed, plan for collection in the second year of growth.
Superschmeltz is a classic open pollenated variety that stays tender up to the largest size. Kolibri kohlrabi is a wonderfully uniform hybrid version with bright purple skin and good disease resistance. They are very easy to grow.
The history of the kohlrabi is not well documented, but it is said that Charlemagne ordered its cultivation as early as the 9th century, which may account for its presence as a German staple food. Prior to that, kohlrabi is mentioned by the Roman writers Pliny the Elder and Apicius, but because of the confusing etymology of its name, these references could have been to turnips. Kohlrabi proper was first recorded being grown in northern Europe in 1554, and had reached North American gardens by the early 1800s.
Many people in North America think of kohlrabi as being a distinctly European vegetable, but it is actually a staple ingredient in many international cuisines. It is has been a popular crop, for instance, in Northern India and Kashmir since the 1600s. The bulbous stems are typically pale green, but purple cultivars are also available, which tend to be slightly sweeter.
The flavour of kohlrabi is relatively mild compared with some of its Brassica cousins. The flesh is crisp and crunchy for raw eating, but pieces can be made tender with some gentle cooking. We've enjoyed a number of kohlrabi themed dishes in the West Coast Seeds Cooking Club, including Kohlrabi and Potato Cakes, Kohlrabi Salad with Cilantro & Lime, Kohlrabi and Potato Subji, and even Beet & Kohlrabi Salad with Caramelized Pecans and Raspberry Vinaigrette. Have a look at some of these amazing recipes.
Kohlrabi is low in calories, but rich in fibre, potassium, vitamins A and C, folic acid, and calcium. When preparing kohlrabi, use a paring knife to remove the outer skin and any leaf joints. Be sure to check the root-end of the peeled vegetable, as it can sometimes form a fibrous cone-shaped core. This is easily removed with a knife. Then simply dice, slice, or grate as needed.