How to Tell if Cabbage Is Bad

Let’s face it…

It’s kinda hard to gauge the freshness of cabbage. I mean, it smells a little funky when cooking even though it’s perfectly good and fresh!

So today, let’s talk about how to tell if your cabbage has gone bad.

Why Does Cabbage Last So Long Compared to Other Veggies?

You’ve probably noticed that cabbage has a much longer shelf life than other vegetables. The reason is due to its low water content. 

Bacteria need a water source to thrive, and they’ll quickly degrade vegetables that are high in water such as tomatoes.

Cabbage, however, has much lower water content than even other greens like spinach and romaine. Fortunately, that means you can enjoy a fresh head of cabbage for a longer period of time safely. 

But still, all good things come to an end. So let’s look at some clues that tell you it’s gone bad. 

3 Signs of Spoiled Cabbage

Here are the three main methods you can use to evaluate your cabbage and monitor it for freshness. 

1. Smell

This is probably the simplest (and most obvious) way. Smell the cabbage and you’ll get an idea of whether or not you can use it. Fresh cabbage does have its own “interesting” smell, but ruined cabbage will smell like ammonia or decay. 

2. Texture

Another method that you can use is the texture test. Like other vegetables, cabbage gets mushy when it goes bad. Looking over the vegetable will give you an idea of whether you can use it. 

Cut cabbage will look gray-black along the edges. Sometimes you have to discard the entire cabbage, but if the discoloration and/or softness is just in the outer leaves, you can discard those and still use the inner parts.

3. Taste Test

This should be your last option. Cabbage that’s gone bad will taste off – and it’ll be obvious. If it tastes fine, you can use it in a cooked dish. If it’s questionable, and if the thought of tasting it makes you queasy, that’s a sure sign you should just throw it out. 

I hate food waste as much as the next person, but it’s just not worth getting sick over. 

How Long Before Cabbage Goes Bad?

Well, it depends on how it is stored. It’s best to store cabbage intact and unwashed until ready to use. 

When you store it properly in a fridge, cabbage will usually keep for 1-2 months without going bad. If stored frozen, you can keep it for about 18 months.

It will likely remain safe after that period of time. It’s just that the quality and flavor will decrease. 

Finally, cabbage used in already prepared dishes generally keeps for about a week. 

You can extend its life up to 6 months by making your own sauerkraut, but this method definitely changes the flavor. Sauerkraut is an acquired taste for sure, but you can’t beat the benefits of fermentation! 

Can Old Cabbage Make You Sick?

I’m sure you’re aware that some foods can have salmonella or other harmful bacteria, but the bacteria on cabbage tend to not be dangerous in small doses. 

You always want to wash it to reduce that risk though. It’s not clear that eating bad cabbage will make you sick, but it’ll likely be unpleasant at the very least. 

My Cabbage Tastes Bitter: Does That Mean It’s Bad?

Some people find it hard to enjoy the flavor of cabbage. It often tastes bitter due to compounds it contains known as glucosinolates. These compounds contain sulfur, which has a distinctive odor and flavor that can be a little strong for some taste buds. 

But that bitterness is, indeed, normal for cabbage. 

If you don’t want to eat bitter cabbage, you can try a few methods to get a better overall flavor:

  • If you’re growing your own, pick it after a frost as this triggers the sugar development within cabbage.
  • You can also cook the cabbage with a small amount of sugar and salt. I also like it sauteed in bacon grease.

Is the Black Stuff on Cabbage Mold?

If you’ve ever noticed black spots on your cabbage, you’ve probably wondered what they were. It could be a few things.

The black spots are usually not caused by a pathogen or a pest. They also don’t typically indicate fungal or bacterial growth but simply look unattractive. If it’s mold, it would have a fuzzy-type appearance or slimy.

If the texture is totally normal and it’s just darkened around the edges or where it’s been cut, it’s usually safe to eat – although do check for other signs that it’s still fresh.

My #1 Tip to Make Cabbage Last Longer 

The better you store your cabbage, the longer it will stick around. Always start by handling the cabbage with care and avoid dropping or bruising it in any way. 

The best place to store cabbage is in the vegetable drawer in a fridge. It doesn’t require a sealed bag although you can leave it in the bag it came in. 

Make sure you don’t wash it until you’re ready to use it. The outer leaves may end up wilting but this will protect the inside of the cabbage. 

And my best tip…keep it whole! Don’t chop up your cabbage until you’re ready to cook with it. 

Now if you want to add cabbage to your long-term food storage plans, hop over here and learn how to dry cabbage. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if red cabbage is bad? 

The three testing methods above work for red cabbage as well. If it’s bad, you may notice the leaves are shriveled and change color from red to brown. 

How long does cooked cabbage last in the fridge? 

In general, cooked cabbage should last 3-5 days. Make sure to cover and refrigerate within a few hours and store covered for the best results. 

Is brown cabbage safe to eat? 

No, probably not. While there are different varieties of cabbage that vary in color, none of them are brown naturally. So that’s a sure sign that it’s past its prime and should just be thrown out. 

How do I tell if coleslaw mix is bad? 

Inspect the mix and note if it has a change in smell or texture. Mixes that are bad tend to be mushy and turn black/brown around the edges.

How long can raw cabbage sit out? 

While its best to keep cabbage in the fridge, it can be kept in an open air container for up to 2 weeks – longer if stored in a cool, dark place.

4 thoughts on “How to Tell if Cabbage Is Bad”

  1. Finely shredded fresh cabbage releases terrible smell of rotten eggs in a refrigerator. It is still edible with good texture after one day but lacks flavor. The normal sharp taste is refreshing. I’ve not experienced plain cabbage that was bitter. It only happened when I added citric acid in attempt to make a lightly sour salad, but instead made it bitter and couldn’t add sugar to compensate.

    • If it’s been in the refrigerator the whole time, I have done that before with no issues. Definitely inspect closely for mold first and do a sniff test…although cabbage is kinda stinky as it is LOL!


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