Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) (2024)

Make crunchy Chinese pickled cabbage with this quick pickle recipe. It is so easy to prepare, and the result is a well-balanced crisp sweet and sour pickle just like the appetizer you’d get at a Chinese restaurant. {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) (1)

Pickled cabbage, known in Chinese as pào cài (泡菜), is such a humble yet popular dish that decorates tabletops all over China. Traditionally enjoyed as a tangy, crisp condiment for simpler foods such as millet, rice porridge, and steamed buns in home cooked meals, it’s also served in restaurants as an appetizer to snack on and clean your palate while waiting for the main dishes to arrive. Pickled cabbage is such an elemental part of Chinese cuisine that it would almost be a crime not to share a recipe for it!

When winter comes to the northern parts of China, the harsh cold sets in and it becomes difficult to grow or harvest many kinds of leafy vegetables. Luckily, the northerners have a thousand-year-old solution. Just before the freezing weather, large trucks are loaded up with cabbage, ready to be taken for pickling. This means that everybody will have veggie nutrients to get them through the season. No wonder pickling is such an important concept in Chinese gastronomic culture!

The great thing about this quick pickle recipe is, once you prepare the veggies and the pickling liquid, it’s ready to eat in just three days. After that, you can just leave it for weeks and take small serving amounts whenever needed. Not only does it taste wonderful, but the aesthetic of the jar itself also adds a beautiful burst of color to your kitchen.

Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) (2)

Cooking notes

1. Quick pickle

To simplify things and make this dish more accessible, I want to show you how you can make your own Chinese pickled cabbage at home, without needing huge amounts of time (or cabbage!).

The ingredients are really basic, probably the type of thing you already have in your pantry. All you need to do is:

  • Combine the ingredients for the pickling liquid in a small pot and simmer. It will dissolve the sugar and release the spiciness from the chili pepper.
  • Rub the cabbage with salt and let it sit for 30 minutes, then squeeze out excess water. It will draw the water out of the cabbage and give it a crunchy texture.
  • Combine the pickling juice and cabbage.

That’s it!

I added some carrots to the cabbage to add color, just like at a Chinese restaurant. But you can make the pickles with or without the carrots.

Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) (3)

2. Spice adjustment

This recipe yields a Sichuan-style pickle that is balanced with sour and sweet taste without being overwhelmingly spicy. You can jazz it up a little with extra spice from the red chilis and Sichuan peppercorns if you like.

I used 4 red chili peppers in this recipe because these chilis are quite mild. If you are using spicy ones like Thai bird’s eye or habanero, you probably only need one. For medium-spicy peppers like jalapenos, you can use one or two.

This recipe contains Sichuan peppercorns to give the pickle a nice fragrance, but it doesn’t add a lot of numbing taste. You can add 1 to 2 teaspoons more if you want to actually taste the peppercorns.

3. For longer storage

This is a quick pickle recipe that will be ready in three days (you can start eating it after pickling overnight, but the flavor will come through on day three and it will taste much better). I’ve stored these pickled in the fridge for two weeks without any problems.

However, if you prefer canning these pickles and storing them for even longer, you should follow the standard canning process to sanitize and seal the jars.

These pickles are great to have in your fridge, so when you whip up a super simple dinner such as a quick fried rice or noodle soup, you can add some veggies to your meal. I hope you enjoy!

Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) (4)

More delicious veggie (vegan) recipes

  • Easy Chinese Cucumber Salad
  • Chinese Cauliflower Stir Fry
  • Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic
  • Steamed Eggplant in Nutty Sauce
  • Homemade Vegan Dumplings

Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) (5)

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

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Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) (6)

Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe)

4.60 from 5 votes

Make crunchy Chinese pickled cabbage with this quick pickle recipe. It is so easy to prepare, and the result is a well-balanced crisp sweet and sour pickle just like the appetizer you’d get at a Chinese restaurant. {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

Author: Maggie Zhu

Course: Appetizer

Cuisine: Chinese

Keyword: cold dish, restaurant-style

Prep Time: 15 minutes minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes minutes

Pickling & resting time: 3 days days

Total Time: 20 minutes minutes

Servings: 8 servings

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Pickling mix

  • 1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves garlic , smashed
  • 4 red chili peppers more if desired (Optional)
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (Optional)


  • 1 lbs (450 g) cabbage (about half of a small head of cabbage)
  • 1 large carrot , peeled
  • 2 tablespoons salt


  • Combine the rice vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and chili peppers in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until it reaches a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Use a clean spoon to taste the pickling liquid to see if it has the desired spice level. You can simmer it for a bit longer if you want the liquid to taste spicier. Once done, set aside and allow to cool.

  • Meanwhile, prepare the veggies. Cut out the cabbage core and discard it. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Cut the carrot into 1/4” (1/2 cm) thick half-moon shaped slices.

  • Combine the cabbage, carrots, and 2 tablespoons of salt in a big bowl. Toss it with your hands so the veggies are coated with salt. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, up to 1 hour (no more than an hour).

  • Drain and discard the salted water released by the veggies. Rinse the veggies with tap water twice. Drain thoroughly, and squeeze out the excess water from the veggies. Transfer them into a large container (or a jar).

  • Add the crushed garlic and Sichuan peppercorns (if using) into the same container.

  • Add the cooled pickling liquid. Press the veggies so they are submerged in the liquid. It is fine if a small fraction of the veggies are poking out from the liquid (because the veggies will shrink over time and become submerged). Seal the container and allow to pickle for 3 days in the fridge.

  • The pickles will start to taste good after 1 day, but the sourness will come through at day 3. Make sure to use clean chopsticks (or flatware) to pick out the pickles every time you serve them. They will stay good in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks.


Serving: 1serving, Calories: 32kcal, Carbohydrates: 7.6g, Protein: 0.9g, Fat: 0.1g, Sodium: 91mg, Potassium: 134mg, Fiber: 1.7g, Sugar: 5.3g, Calcium: 28mg

Did You Make This Recipe?Don't forget the last step! Leave a comment below, and tag me @OmnivoresCookbook and #OmnivoresCookbook on Instagram!

Lilja Walter is a part of the Omnivore’s Cookbook team and worked closely with Maggie to develop and test this recipe.

Chinese Pickled Cabbage (A Quick Pickle Recipe) (2024)


What is Chinese pickled cabbage called? ›

Suancai (also called suan tsai and Chinese sauerkraut; lit. 'sour vegetable') is a traditional Chinese pickled Chinese cabbage (napa cabbage) or Chinese mustard, used for a variety of purposes. Suancai is a unique form of paocai, due to the ingredients used and the method of production.

Is Chinese pickled cabbage good for you? ›

Fermented Chinese pickled cabbage aren't just delicious, but it's also a great source of vitamins and probiotics.

How long will pickled cabbage last? ›

You can use other types of vinegar, such as red wine, sherry, white wine, or rice vinegar, but keep in mind that they will have different flavors. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks.

How does quick pickling work? ›

In fermentation, good bacteria turn sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the food product. In quick pickling, the cold of the fridge lets the vinegary flavors of the brine marinate with the fruits or vegetables (and added spices) while forestalling the bacteria growth.

What are the two types of Chinese cabbage? ›

Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa, subspecies pekinensis and chinensis) is either of two cultivar groups of leaf vegetables often used in Chinese cuisine: the Pekinensis Group (napa cabbage) and the Chinensis Group (bok choy).

What is the difference between Chinese pickled cabbage and sauerkraut? ›

A big difference between Chinese sour cabbage and sauerkraut is that the latter is made of regular cabbage, while Chinese suancai is made of baicai, Chinese cabbage (or napa cabbage) with crunchier petioles and softer leaves that form the compact head.

Can you eat too much pickled cabbage? ›

Yes, it is possible to eat too much sauerkraut. Consuming large amounts of sauerkraut can lead to digestive discomfort, such as bloating and gas. Additionally, sauerkraut is high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and other health problems if consumed in excessive amounts.

What does Chinese cabbage do for your body? ›

Chinese cabbage has blood pressure-lowering properties, which are important for controlling blood pressure. Chinese cabbage has a low calorie count despite having a tonne of fibre. Chinese cabbage can be consumed as a nutritional supplement alongside practically any meal without significantly increasing caloric intake.

Which is healthier cabbage or Chinese cabbage? ›

Napa and regular cabbage are both low-fat, low-calorie and low-carb, but the nutritious profile of napa cabbage offers higher levels of vitamins C, K and folate than green cabbage. It also delivers higher levels of essential minerals.

Do quick pickles go bad? ›

Quick pickles are not shelf stable and must be stored in the refrigerator, where they will last for up to one month. The exception being onions and shallots which will last in the fridge for about two weeks. For this reason, quick pickles are best made in smaller batches or as part of your meal preparation.

Can you eat pickled cabbage raw? ›

But pickling, which preserves the cabbage, is a delicious way to deal with any excess. Use half the cabbage for this, as it stores well, and the other half can be eaten raw. Pickled cabbage – great in a bun – with a sausage or pork or on its own.

How long can you keep cabbage in vinegar? ›

This quick-pickled cabbage recipe is not fermented, but it is simply brined in a hot vinegar-salt mixture and refrigerated. The pickled cabbage lasts only a week in the fridge, while sauerkraut is good for up to six months.

What is the formula for quick pickling? ›

The classic ratio is super easy to remember and is easily scale-able depending on how many pickles you're making. It's 100% vinegar, 50% water, 25% sugar and 12.5% kosher salt by weight. So for example, 200g vinegar, 100g water, 50g sugar and 25g kosher salt (again, you can scale this up or down!).

What is the difference between pickling and quick pickling? ›

The major difference between quick pickling and regular pickling is that we're not canning anything, and the vegetables must be stored in the fridge and eaten within a month or two of making them. But you can make as small or large of a batch as you'd like!

How long does quick pickle take? ›

Just 24 hours later you'll have an array of sweet, salty pickled vegetables to share. Once we fill the jars with the brine, we seal the jars, let them cool for an hour or two on the counter, then transfer to the refrigerator. Most quick pickles will last up to 2 months in the fridge.

What is another name for Chinese cabbage? ›

Chinese cabbage is also known as napa, napa cabbage, pe-tsai, wongbok, or chihli. This is a vegetable of major importance in China (over 300 000 ha grown), Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Grown as an annual crop, most cultivars are biennial and produce tight, compact, cylindrical heads.

What is another name for pickled cabbage? ›

Sauerkraut is made by a process of pickling called lactic acid fermentation that is analogous to how traditional (not heat-treated) pickled cucumbers and kimchi are made. The cabbage is finely shredded, layered with salt, and left to ferment.

What are Chinese pickled vegetables called? ›

Some types of these preserved vegetables are produced through being repeatedly dried after the fermentation.
  • Gongcai (simplified Chinese: 贡菜; traditional Chinese: 貢菜; pinyin: gòngcài)
  • Meigan cai (梅菜; méi cài)
  • Suan cai (酸菜; suāncài)
  • Tianjin preserved vegetable (冬菜; dōngcài)
  • Prunus mume (酸梅; suān méi)
  • Zhacai (榨菜; zhàcài)

What are Chinese pickles called? ›

Pao cai as it is commonly known, is often served as a palate freshener in many restaurants. These fresher versions of pickles are reminiscent of Western pickles. Preserved pickles called zha cai are unattractive knobby or gnarly looking vegetables that have been brined or salted.


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