NAPA CABBAGE
CARE: Store refrigerated at 32 degrees with 95% relative humidity for up to two weeks.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: One cup of cooked napa cabbage has 13 calories and is a good source of potassium and vitamin A.
AVAILABILITY: Year-round

(Dec. 19) Napa cabbage, or Chinese cabbage, is a traditional Chinese vegetable that has light green leaves with a squared tip. Once almost exclusively used in Asian cuisine, napa cabbage now appeals to a more widespread audience, says Don Matelson, president of Direct Ethnic Marketers Inc., Los Angeles.

Matelson attributes the rise in mainstream napa cabbage use to the popularity of Asian cooking in America. Customers develop a taste for the vegetable when eating at Asian restaurants and then incorporate the vegetable into their own cooking, he says. It can be incorporated into old recipes for a new taste and does not need to be exclusively used in Asian dishes, Mattelson says.

Napa cabbage can be eaten raw as the base for a salad or in a salad mix with other greens. More commonly, it is used in stir-fry, soups or sauteed. It is more tender and tastes less pungent than traditional cabbage. Also, napa cabbage is high in nutrients with few calories, so it fits into health-conscious lifestyles.

Vic Ventimiglia, owner of Vic’s World Class Market in Beverly Hills, Mich., says that although napa cabbage is not a top seller, his store consistently sells about a case a day at 99 cents a pound year-round. While it attracts more sporadic use in the mainstream, it is a staple among Asian populations, Ventimiglia says. Traditional Chinese recipes often require the vegetable and many Asian cooks use it every day.

Providing recipes next to the napa cabbage helps increase sales at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in St. Joseph, Mo., says produce manager Cindy Bachov. Many of her customers have never tried the vegetable before, she says. So, providing recipes for popular foods like stir-fry, egg rolls or egg drop soup boosts sales. She has a limited Asian clientele and sells a large amount to her elderly customers, she says. Wal-Mart sells napa cabbage at around 84 cents a pound year-round.

Bachov suggests displaying napa cabbage with radicchio, darker green leaf Boston lettuce and bok choy. She color coordinates the green vegetables to draw attention. At Vic’s Market, napa is displayed with collard and mustard greens and other salad ingredients, Ventimiglia says. He also suggests displaying it with other Chinese vegetables like water chestnuts, bean sprouts and bamboo shoots.

There are many possibilities for creative display with napa cabbage, Matelson says. He suggests displaying it with other Asian commodities and condiments but also displaying the vegetable with nonethnic foods and condiments like salad dressings or saute oils. He also suggests cross-merchandising napa cabbage with meats, sauces and recipes. The key is to really draw attention to the vegetable and help customers understand how to use it. Use massive displays to draw attention, he says.