The name kohlrabi is a German term meaning cabbage turnip (Kohl = cabbage and Rabi = turnip). Aptly named, kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea variety gongylodes) is indeed related to the cabbage and the turnip, as they are all members of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae Family (mustard family) along with others like kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and romanesco. All those members of the Brassicaceae family descend from the wild cabbage.
Time Gone By
Most members of the mustard family have been around since antiquity, but kohlrabi’s history is a bit unclear. This hardy vegetable is reported to have been used by the Romans and was mentioned to have been ordered by Charlemagne to be grown in the Imperial Gardens around 800 AD. However, others record its history as starting in the mid-16th century when it was first reported on by a European botanist. What most agree upon is that by the end of the 16th century this vegetable had spread to England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and even to countries in the eastern Mediterranean. By the late 18th century, and into the early 19th century, kohlrabi was being grown in larger scale production in Ireland and England, and also found its way to the United States during that time.
A Time to Plant
Kohlrabi is a vegetable that’s grown for its round globe/bulb shaped stem and comes in both a white (slightly green) and a purple skinned variety, both with white flesh. Both color varieties of this cool weather crop are easy to grow but do need to have seeds sown in either early spring or mid to late summer. Kohlrabi can stand up to some light frosts but may require a little shade if summer temperatures become too hot. You can even make small plantings every 2-3 weeks to allow for a continuous harvest.
As you begin to sow seeds, plant them in full sun, 4” apart and ½” deep, in rows 1’ apart. Plants can be thinned to 6” apart as the seedlings begin to grow. The thinned seedlings can either be transplanted or the young greens can be eaten. Kohlrabi does best planted in loamy soils at a neutral pH. As plants grow, it’s critical to keep the soil moist, yet well drained. Applying water at a rate of 2”/week should keep the soil consistently moist. Mulching can help with this too.
No Time for Pests and Diseases
Kohlrabi is susceptible to the same pests and diseases that other Brassicaceae family members are afflicted by. This includes cutworms, cabbage worms, flea beetles, aphids, damping off, root rot, and snails and slugs. To keep these problems at bay, be sure your kohlrabi isn’t kept in waterlogged soil, and is rotated in your garden with non- Brassicaceae plants. Also keeping your garden neat and tidy will help prevent these problems. You can also sow plants, such as marigolds, to attract natural insect predators and keep unwanted insects out of your growing space. Floating row covers are also a good way to keep unwanted caterpillars from munching on your crops. If you have a snail or slug problem, sprinkling diatomaceous earth around your plants can help thwart them.
A Time to Reap
Your kohlrabi will be ready to harvest when you see the globed stem start popping out of the soil and the globes have reached 2-3” in diameter. When it comes to harvesting your crop, it’s best to pick earlier, rather than later, if you aren’t sure on size. The larger the globes get, the tougher and woodier they become as they mature.
After you have harvested your kohlrabi, you can use your produce right away or store it for later. If storing, be sure to trim the leaves off, wrap them in a damp paper towel, and place in a plastic bag. Leaves can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days, while the globes can be stored for several weeks.
Time for Eating
This vibrant vegetable has some quality nutrition to offer. In one cup (135 grams) of kohlrabi, you will receive 36 calories, 0 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein, and 8 carbohydrates (5 grams of which is dietary fiber. It is an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of Vitamin B-6 and potassium. Kohlrabi also offers Vitamins A, E, and the remainder of the B’s (sans B-12). It also offers the minerals calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium.
Like many vegetables, kohlrabi is great at improving digestive health, reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Kohlrabi, along with most of its mustard family cousins, contains the phytochemicals isothiocyanates, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol. These are important because they have been shown to protect against prostate and colon cancers.
Kohlrabi, along with being easy to grow and providing valuable nutrition, can also be used in a variety of amazing recipes. Whether you choose to toss it into a soup, create a delicious summer slaw, or sauté it in olive oil, kohlrabi is an amazing addition to your cooking repertoire. Below are some of my favorite ways to prepare kohlrabi.
4-5 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and chopped into chunks
Olive or avocado oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl
Spread kohlrabi mix in a single layer on a baking sheet
Bake until golden brown (~20 minutes), stirring occasionally
Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese
Return to oven to allow the cheese to brown (~5 minutes)
Serve while still warm
Unpeeled kohlrabi bulbs (as much as you want to make)
Olive oil (enough to coat chips and keep them from sticking)
Preheat oven to 250°F
Using a mandolin slice kohlrabi very thinly
Toss kohlrabi with oil
Season with salt
Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet
Bake, until crisp and deep golden, rotating sheet occasionally (some ovens may take up to an hour)
Transfer chips when they’re done to a paper-towel-lined plate
Sprinkle on additional salt if desired
You can even get creative here and spice up your chips with rosemary, cracked pepper, or any seasoning that suits your fancy. Use these delicious chips to dip into your favorite salsa, guacamole, or cheese dip or simply eat them all by themselves.
The leaves of Kohlrabi can be used too. Simply sauté chopped kohlrabi bulbs and leaves in butter along with onion and you have an amazing dish. Add in heavy cream, salt and pepper, and spices like nutmeg or allspice, simmer for a bit and you have created a culinary masterpiece.
Your time and garden space will be well spent cultivating Kohlrabi. With its easy growing style, it’s a pleasure to have in the garden and the kitchen. This wonderful vegetable will offer you ample nutrition and variety in your cooking endeavors. So, if it’s time for you to plant something new in your growing spaces, or try out in your culinary creations, give Kohlrabi a grow and a go!
Anderson, C. University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension. Agriculture and Natural Resources. Home Gardening Series Kohlrabi. FSA6089. https://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/FSA-6089.pdf
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Aggie Horticulture. Texas A&M. Kohlrabi and Brussels Sprouts Are European. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/vegetabletravelers/kohlrabi.html
University of Illinois Extension. 2017. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. College of ACES. Watch Your Garden Grow. Kohlrabi. https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/kohlrabi.cfm