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Exploring Coleslaw: Facts, Folklore, and Fabulous Recipes

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Coleslaw has a rich and interesting history.

Coleslaw has a rich and interesting history.

The Origin of Coleslaw

The famous song on Sesame Street asks: "One of these things just doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the others by the time I finish my song?”

So which of these is not like the rest?

  • sloppy Joes
  • corndogs
  • pulled pork
  • coleslaw

All of these foods are common at carnivals and food festivals. They're often shared at backyard barbecues or picnics. They're fun to eat (but not particularly healthy). But only three of them were "made in America." Believe it or not, the first cabbage slaw was crafted not in a Pennsylvania Dutch kitchen but in Roman sculleries.

Marcus Gavius Apicius

Marcus Gavius Apicius was an epicure and lover of luxury who lived in 1st-century Rome. And he was quite possibly the first celebrity chef. So popular were his culinary accomplishments that 300 years later, they were compiled in The Art of Cooking, one of the earliest cookbooks in recorded history. The book is often attributed to him and even (incorrectly) assigned his name, Apicius.

Within the tome is the suggestion that cabbage or cardoons be eaten with a "briny broth, oil, and chopped hard eggs." Thank goodness that 1,400 years later (give or take a year or so), the cooked eggs and oil were replaced with mayonnaise.

"What Is the Origin of the Name Cole Slaw?"

I'm glad you asked. Let's take a little trip down the etymological trail, shall we? Remember our Roman celebrity chef Apicius? Well, caulis is Latin for “stem” (which is how the Romans classified those plants that we now know as the cabbage family.) From caulis came cole (yet another word that is no longer in our lexicon). In the German language, cole became kohl (as in kohlrabi), which then spun into kool (cabbage). Marry that with slaw (the German word for salad), and you have koolslaw. Anglicized, it became coleslaw. Not cold slaw.

It’s always a tough decision between that, the Mac and Cheese, and the mashed potatoes, isn’t it?

— Colonel Sanders


  • Cabbage is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables.
  • The heaviest cabbage recorded to date weighed 62.71 kg (138.25 lb) and was presented at the Alaska State Fair by Scott A. Robb (USA) in Palmer, Alaska, USA, on 31 August 2012.
  • Fayetteville, Tennessee, hosts an annual Slawburger Festival in April. Fun activities include a slaw recipe contest, live bands, a slaw burger eating contest, and a scavenger hunt.

Recipes In This Article

  • Basic Creamy (V)
  • Greek-Style (V)
  • Creamy Blue Cheese and Walnut (V)
  • Chicken Apple Slaw
  • Thai Slaw with Peanut Sauce (V)
  • Asian with Ramen Noodles (V)
  • Mexican Corn (V)

(V) = vegetarian

Basic Creamy Coleslaw

This is the dish that comes to mind when we hear the word 'coleslaw.' Mayonnaise makes it creamy, vinegar and sugar add just the right amount of sour and sweet, and with a pre-shredded bag of cabbage and crunchy carrots, you can have this ready for your family in just minutes.

Greek Style Cole Slaw

This lightened version of slaw adds lemon juice, dried oregano (please don't use fresh), and crumbled feta cheese for a bright, tangy salad.

Creamy Blue Cheese and Walnut Coleslaw

What first attracted me to this recipe was the beautiful photograph. What enticed me to make it was the list of ingredients. The addition of blue cheese and walnuts to an already lovely salad is genius. Katie (HealthySeasonalRecipes) suggests adding fresh peas when they are in season.

In just a few weeks, I think peas will be showing up at the Farmers' Markets. Keep this slaw in mind when you go shopping at your favorite market. I can envision this with fresh radishes, peas, dill weed, crisp baby cucumbers . . . and the list goes on and on.


Chicken Apple Slaw

This is my take on assembling a coleslaw. Make your own mayonnaise (yes, you can), add diced cooked chicken, and you have a wonderful lunch or light dinner.


  • 3 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1/2 cup celery heart, diced
  • 1 cup diced apple
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 4 tsp. minced fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 cup smoked almonds, finely chopped
  • 1 cup lemon mayonnaise, (see recipe below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 cups Chinese cabbage, finely chopped


Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes. Serve on chilled plates.

Lemon Mayonnaise


  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon zest


Place the egg yolks, salt, and lemon juice in the bowl of a blender. Process until the egg yolk and juice are well combined and the yolks begin to turn a lighter shade of yellow. Remove the fill cap (central portion of the lid). Place the olive oil in a glass measuring cup with a lip suitable for pouring. With the blender running, begin adding the oil to the yolk/lemon juice mixture. Start with just one drop at a time and increase to a steady but very slow stream as the oil is absorbed. Stir in lemon zest.

Thai Slaw With Peanut Dressing

As Jaclyn, author of the blog CookingClassy says, this slaw is a Thai-flavored spin on the American classic. The appearance alone is enough to sell me. My younger daughter's Kindergarten teacher explained nutrition to her class by telling them they should try to "eat a rainbow" every day. Words of wisdom for sure. Look at the array of colors, and then consider the crunchy texture, the savory, creamy peanut sauce, the sweetness from honey and brown sugar, and a bit of sourness from rice wine vinegar. And then, a pop of heat from sriracha, ginger, and garlic.

Don't let the long list of ingredients dissuade you from trying this dish. It is worth every moment.

Asian Coleslaw With Ramen Noodles

I was first introduced to this type of salad by one of my nieces. We have a very large family, so when we gather together, you can always be assured that a potluck is involved. Leslie brought a wonderful bowl full of salad with colorful veggies, and I could smell the aroma of soy sauce. I thought it was wonderful, just "as is," but then she whipped out the secret ingredient—the one thing that could not be folded into the mix until the final moments—uncooked ramen noodles.

I didn't get the recipe from her, but I'm pretty sure this is how it is put together.

Mexican Corn Coleslaw

This is not your KFC or Chick-fil-A coleslaw. This is not your Pennsylvania Dutch grandma's coleslaw, and it definitely is not a boring side dish. Decatur MacPherson at CraftyHouse creates a slaw that totally hits the reset button. A simple bag of shredded cabbage and carrots is amped up with the flavors of a fiesta—corn, black beans, sour cream, lime juice, and taco seasoning take this slaw to another (awesome) level.

© 2018 Linda Lum