The term “cole” in coleslaw refers to the cabbage that is the primary ingredient in this salad dish. Coleslaw gets its name from the Dutch word “koolsla” which literally means cabbage salad. The “cole” part of coleslaw comes from “kool” meaning cabbage. So when someone talks about cole or cabbage slaw, they are referring to the same vegetable-based salad made with shredded cabbage.
Cabbage has been used for thousands of years as both a food and a medicine. Historical records show cultivated cabbage was being eaten as far back as 4,000 years ago in China. In ancient Rome, cabbage was considered a sacred plant and wine made from cabbage was drunk during rituals devoted to the god of agriculture Saturn.
Cabbage cultivation spread across Europe and it became a staple vegetable grown in home gardens and farms due to its hardy nature and high nutrient content. The early European settlers brought cabbage with them to North America where it also became a commonly grown crop.
The origins of modern coleslaw can be traced back to the 18th century in Europe. It became popular in America by the 19th century and started being served as a side dish with barbecue, fried chicken, and other picnic and cook-out foods. The emergence of commercial mayonnaise in the early 1900s helped popularize creamy coleslaw dressings.
While cabbage is the core ingredient, coleslaw has many variations in terms of other vegetables, herbs, and dressing ingredients used. But no matter what else goes into the mix, cabbage continues to provide the “cole” that gives this side dish its name.
What are the origins of the term “cole” for cabbage?
The word “cole” in coleslaw has its origins in several European languages that were used to refer to cabbage and related plants:
– In Latin, brassica plants like cabbage were known as colis.
– In Old German, kohl referred to cabbage.
– The Dutch word kool evolved from the German kohl and also meant cabbage.
– In Old Norse, the term kål was used for various brassica plants.
So the “cole” or “kool” in coleslaw refers to the cabbage which belongs to the brassica or colis species that has been cultivated for thousands of years.
The Old English word cāwel or cālwas derived from these earlier terms and this eventually became “cole” in Middle English around the 14th century. The English term cole also became associated with plants of the brassica family grown for food like cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.
In the 17th century, the word coldslaw of Dutch origin was being used in English texts to refer to a salad made with shredded cabbage. The term coleslaw started appearing in the late 18th century as the more commonly used word for cabbage salad.
So in summary, the European roots of “cole” lie in the Latin, Germanic, and Norse words used for cabbage plants which provided the foundation for the Modern English word denoting cabbage as well as cabbage-based foods like coleslaw.
When and where did coleslaw first originate?
While cabbage has been cultivated for over 4,000 years, the origins of coleslaw as its own distinct salad dish are much more recent. Some key facts about the origins of coleslaw include:
– The ancient Greeks and Romans had recipes for a salad made from raw cabbage, vinegar, oil and herbs. This may represent an early predecessor to modern coleslaw.
– cookbooks from the 14th and 15th centuries in Britain contain recipes for cabbage salads tossed with vinegar, oil, and spices. This indicates raw cabbage salads were already popular in Europe centuries ago.
– The earliest direct ancestors of coleslaw are believed to have originated in the Netherlands as well as Germany in the 17th century. The Dutch koolsla and German kohlsalat referred to raw shredded cabbage tossed in a dressing.
– The first published coleslaw recipe appears in The Sensible Cook: Dutch Foodways in the Old and New World published in 1788. This 18th century Dutch cookbook from New York contains a recipe for cabbage salad made with vinegar, oil, green grapes, and spice.
– By the late 1700s, recipes for cabbage slaw dressed with oil, vinegar or lemon juice were showing up in British and American cookbooks as the dish became more widespread.
So while cabbage was a staple crop much earlier, coleslaw as it’s now recognized first emerged a few centuries ago in Europe before becoming popular internationally by the 1800s. The Dutch and Germans are most credited for developing the archetypal raw cabbage salad recipes that evolved into modern coleslaw.
How did coleslaw get its name?
Coleslaw got its name from the Dutch words “kool sla.” Kool referred to cabbage and sla meant salad. The direct translation of kool sla was cabbage salad, which then became “cole slaw” and eventually “coleslaw” in English.
There are a few theories on the origins of the Dutch kool sla that led to the name coleslaw:
– It may be based on the older German word kohlsalat meaning cabbage salad. This may have led to the similar Dutch kool sla term.
– The Dutch were renowned for their cabbage cultivation and cabbage dishes, so kool sla may have originally been a Dutch cabbage salad dish that spread to Germany.
– The Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (later New York) in the 1600s led to traditional Dutch recipes like kool sla becoming known in America.
– The first known published coleslaw recipe in English appeared in a 1788 Dutch cookbook from New York, reflecting the Dutch kool sla name merging into English as cole slaw.
Whatever the exact origins, the name coleslaw clearly derives from the Dutch words for cabbage salad. The “cole” comes from kool for cabbage and “slaw” comes from sla for salad.
While versions of cabbage salad existed much earlier, it appears this distinct Dutch name that highlighted cabbage as the main ingredient is what gave coleslaw its signature name still used today.
What are some of the key ingredients in coleslaw?
While cabbage is the core component of coleslaw, there are many additional ingredients that can be used in different recipes:
Cabbage – Usually green cabbage, but can also use red or purple cabbage. Can use just one type or a cabbage mix. Shredded into thin strips.
Carrots – Finely shredded carrots are the most common coleslaw vegetable addition to cabbage. Provides color and crunch.
Onions – White, yellow, or red onions chopped finely or shredded can add flavor.
Bell peppers – Thinly sliced or chopped green, red, or yellow peppers are sometimes added.
Fruits – Apple, dried cranberries, raisins, pineapple, or mandarin oranges are used in fruit coleslaws.
Herbs and spices – Black pepper, caraway, dill seeds, celery seeds, oregano, and parsley are often used to season coleslaw.
Dressings – Mayonnaise or vinegar-oil emulsions are the main dressings used to coat the vegetables. Plain yogurt or sour cream are sometimes used too.
Beyond the vegetables, herbs, and dressing, you can also add extras like nuts, seeds, pickles, bacon, cheese, etc. to customize coleslaw recipes. But cabbage and a mayo or vinegar dressing are the core constants.
What are the different ways coleslaw can be prepared and served?
There are several variations in how coleslaw can be prepared:
Shredding – The cabbage and vegetables can be shredded in different ways. Finely shredded makes it fluffier while wide shreds give it more texture.
Dressing – Mayonnaise or vinaigrettes are most common. Buttermilk, sour cream, plain yogurt, or other creamy dressings are sometimes used.
Seasonings – The seasonings added range from just salt and pepper to sweet and savory spices, herbs, mustard, etc. This affects the flavor profile.
Add-Ins – Nuts, seeds, dried fruits, pickles, green onions, cheese, meat, and more can be tossed in for different tastes and textures.
Accompaniments – Coleslaw often accompanies barbecued, fried, or roasted meats as a side dish. Can also top burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, tacos, etc.
Serving Style – Chilled, at room temp, or warm. The serving temperature depends on preferences and how it will be eaten.
Amount of Dressing – Some like coleslaw coated lightly while others prefer it heavily dressed and dripping. Dressing amount impacts the moistness.
Preparation methods also range from just tossing the ingredients together to letting flavors meld by chilling prepared coleslaw for several hours before serving. These options result in many different takes on this cabbage salad.
What are some common variations of coleslaw?
While basic coleslaw is shredded cabbage and carrots tossed in mayo or vinegar dressing, some popular variations include:
– Creamy Coleslaw – Made with a mayo, sour cream, or buttermilk based dressing. Gives it a rich, creamy texture.
– Vinegar-Based Slaw – Often called “Carolina coleslaw.” Made with vinegar, oil, and little creamy ingredients. Tangy taste.
– Fruit Coleslaw – Contain chopped fruits like pineapple, grapes, apples, orange, cranberries. Sweet twist.
– Broccoli Slaw – Uses shredded raw broccoli and cabbage as the base. Brighter green color.
– Asian Slaw – Add ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar for Asian zest.
– Jicama Slaw – Jicama and cabbage slaw mix provides crunchy texture.
– German Potato Slaw – Includes shredded potatoes. Heartier than just cabbage slaw.
– Greek Coleslaw – Mediterranean flair with olives, feta, oregano, lemon, olive oil dressing.
– Bacon Coleslaw – Bits of crispy cooked bacon popular addition for smoky flavor.
The permutations are endless! While coleslaw is defined by the cabbage base, the other seasonings, dressings, and mix-ins provide wide diversity.
What are the most popular types of cabbage used in coleslaw?
Green cabbage is the most commonly used cabbage variety for coleslaw. This larger headed green cabbage comes in smooth or savoyed (crinkly) leaf textures. Savoy is often preferred for its tender leaves that shred well.
Some other popular cabbages used in coleslaw include:
– Red cabbage – Adds color contrast and crunch. More expensive so usually mixed with mostly green.
– Napa cabbage – Frilly, ruffled leaves shred nicely. Delicate flavor.
– Bok choy – Stalks and greens both get shredded. Distinct crisp texture.
– Brussels sprouts – Shaved sprouts can substitute for some of the cabbage. Nutty taste.
– Kale – Hearty curly kale stands up to thicker dressings well when stemmed and chopped.
– Green and red cabbage mixes are widely available pre-bagged, which makes mixing color easy.
Cabbage really is the star of the show in coleslaw. While other veggies are often added for crunch, the cabbage provides the bulk and its inherent flavor shines through whatever else is paired with it.
What are the most important factors in making good coleslaw?
To make delicious coleslaw, here are some key factors to get right:
– Shredding – Cutting the cabbage and other vegetables into thin, uniform shreds makes for better coating and distribution of dressing.
– Balancing wet vs. dry – Too little dressing leaves it dry while too much makes it soggy. Getting just the right amount for moisture without being drenched takes practice.
– Marinating – Making the coleslaw in advance and letting it chill in the fridge allows flavors to meld. At least an hour or two if you can.
– Tossing well – Getting everything thoroughly and evenly tossed together ensures all ingredients coated properly with dressing.
– Seasoning – Add salt, pepper, sugar, and spices at the right amounts to achieve the flavor profile you want.
– Crispness – Use fresh, cold ingredients for maximum crunch and texture. Soft veggies make soft slaw.
– Acidic component – The acidity level from vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt helps balance and brighten flavors.
– Sweetness – A touch of sugar, fruit, carrots balances acidity and enhances overall flavor.
Getting the perfect crunch and creaminess while making sure all the ingredients shine is an art but very achievable with practice and tasting as you go!
What health benefits does cabbage provide in coleslaw?
Coleslaw is actually quite nutritious, largely thanks to the health benefits of cabbage:
– Rich in vitamin C – Raw cabbage is an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamin C. Also contains some vitamin K.
– High in antioxidants – Contains antioxidant phytochemicals that help eliminate free radicals that cause cellular damage.
– Fiber-rich – Cabbage provides insoluble fiber that promotes healthy digestion and gut bacteria.
– Sulforaphane glucosinolates – Compounds shown to have anti-inflammatory and cancer-protective benefits. Highest in raw cabbage.
– Potassium – An essential mineral involved in muscle function, nerve signaling, heart health, and fluid balance. Cabbage is a good source.
– Choline – Supports brain development, liver function, nervous system health, metabolism, and more. Cabbage contains some choline.
– Low calorie – Cabbage is very low in calories, so coleslaw can help fill you up without a lot of calorie density.
The Vanderbilt University research group ranked cabbage as one of the top veggies with cancer-fighting properties, largely due to its special mix of antioxidants. So enjoy your coleslaw for all those extra nutrients!
How is coleslaw served and eaten in different culinary traditions?
|Cuisine||Common Preparations||Popular Dishes Paired With|
|American Southern||Creamy mayo dressing||Fried chicken, BBQ ribs, Pulled pork|
|German||Warm bacon vinaigrette||Sausages, Pork dishes, Hearty meat meals|
|Polish & Eastern European||Shredded with carrots||Pierogi dumplings, Roast meats|
|Korean||Seasoned rice vinegar dressing||Bulgogi, Fried chicken, Bibimbap|
|Vietnamese||Thinly shredded cabbage, herbs, fish sauce||Pho noodle soup|
American Southern Coleslaw Traditions
In the American South, coleslaw is often served chilled and creamy, paired with fried chicken, BBQ ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, and other classic comfort foods. The mayonnaise-based dressing varies from a light coating to being slathered on thick. The cabbage tends to be shredded fairly fine. Seasonings range from just salt and pepper to added sugar or cider vinegar for tang.
German Warm Bacon Coleslaw
German cuisine often features cabbage slaw tossed warm in a hot bacon vinaigrette rather than mayonnaise. Along with the rendered bacon drippings, ingredients like wine vinegar, mustard, and herbs amp up the flavor. It’s served warm alongside sausage, pork dishes, schnitzel, and hearty meat-centric meals.
Polish & Eastern European Coleslaw Traditions
In Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and surrounding regions, finely shredded cabbage and carrot coleslaw dressed simply with sour cream or vinegar is a ubiquitous accompaniment to meals. It’s served alongside dumplings like pierogi, stuffed cabbage rolls, roasted meat cutlets, sausages, and other traditional Slavic dishes.
Korean Coleslaw Dishes
Koreans enjoy a lighter dressed slaw called mugeun-jangachi made with thin cabbage shreds, carrots, vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, and other seasoning. It accompanies Korean barbecue or dishes like bibimbap and bulgogi. The cabbage soaks up meat juices and sauces beautifully.
Vietnamese Cabbage Salads
In Vietnamese cuisine, shredded cabbage tossed with fresh herbs, fish sauce, lime, and chili peppers makes a bright topping for pho noodle soup. Other cabbage slaw variations are served alongside grilled meats or in lettuce wraps and spring rolls.
While coleslaw may seem like a simple salad, it has a rich history and versatile place in cuisines around the world. The term “cole” captures how fundamental cabbage is to this slaw dish. Whether dressed creamy or tangy, the cabbage provides crunch along with many nutritional benefits. From American South barbecue to Korean kimchi to Indian spiced slaw, coleslaw continues to be a flexibly adapted cabbage showcase across cultures.