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What Is Kale?

What Is Kale?

On a recent episode of Top Chef: New Orleans, Food & Wine’s editor-in-chief Dana Cowin named kale as a trend that she’d like to see disappear. Recently, kale has starred on countless menus in the same salad variations, but to call the leafy vegetable merely a trend is misinformed, as it has had a place in food repertoires worldwide for quite some time. To know more about everything kale-related, we’ve outlined the basics that you should know.

Firstly, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what kale actually is. Kale, or borecole, is a leafy vegetable with colored leaves that comes in a plethora of different varieties. It exists within the same species — Brassica oleracea — as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and collard greens. The kale leaves and stems come in diverse colors and shapes, including tall and short, curled and plain leaved, tall-growing, horizontal-growing, and in colors ranging from blue-green to yellow-green to red.

The different varieties have distinctive tastes and appearances. These types include: Curly Green, Ornamental, Redbor, Premier, Siberian, Red Russian, Kamome (available in red, white, and fuchsia), and Lacinato, also known as Dinosaur kale.

In terms of its historical background, kale is a descendant of wild cabbage, which originated in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), and was later transported to Europe around 600 B.C. The ancient Greeks and Romans grew at least four different types of kale, including the widely known curly green variety. In the Middle Ages, peasants relied heavily on kale as it was hearty enough to grow in colder climates and provided key nutrients in their diets. In the 1600s, English settlers introduced kale into the Americas for the first time.

During World War II, kale appeared in the "Dig for Victory" campaign in England as a superfood because of its high nutritional properties and ease of growth, which was more important than ever during rationing. It would have been prepared by boiling at the time, and perhaps served with heartier vegetables like potatoes or leeks. In present-day America, kale is mostly grown on the East Coast, north of the Mason-Dixie Line, and collards are grown in the Southeastern states. Although kale is a relatively minor commercial crop in the United States, it is a popular winter green in Southern cuisine. Kale is a common addition to winter menus because cold weather makes the crop grow sweeter — kale has a hard time thriving in the heat.


But first! Let’s talk nutrition. Leafy greens like kale are some of the healthiest foods you can eat! Kale is full of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. One cup of raw kale is only 33 calories, 6 grams of carbs (2 of which are fiber), and 3 grams of protein. Because of its low calorie content, kale is among the most nutrient-dense foods on earth. Eating more of this cruciferous vegetable is a great way to increase the total nutrient content of your diet. So the big takeaway: EAT MORE KALE!


What Is Kale?

When it comes to the cabbage family, kale is most similar to wild cabbage as the stalks are made up of loose, elongated leaves instead of tightly packed, rounded heads. The most common varieties of kale found in the grocery store are curly kale and baby kale. Some people may find curly kale to be quite fibrous when raw and prefer to eat this green cooked baby kale has a more tender leaf and is therefore favored in salads. Kale adds a great deal of nutrition to dishes, as well as a pop of color and texture. It is simple to prepare and inexpensive.


Should you eat kale stems?

Though kale stems and ribs are edible, but can be tough. They are typically removed by running a sharp knife along the stem and center rib to separate the leaf. (see video / image below for how to cut away the rib and stem). If the stems and center ribs are tender, they're often sweet and crunchy and can be finely cut into ribbons for use in salads and soups. (The center ribs on smaller leaves are often tender and can be left intact.)

If you don't want to discard the stems, you can cook them separately from the leaves or add them to stocks that will be strained. To cook the stems, finely chop and cook along with other recipe base aromatics like onion and garlic, so that they are sautéed long enough to become tender.


Bowls

Steamed, blanched, sautéed, and massaged kale are all fantastic additions to grain bowls. They add a boatload of nutrients and a gorgeous shock of green.

Best Buddha Bowl
Make this Buddha bowl recipe as-written, or use it as a template to invent your own bowl! Swap cooked lentils for the chickpeas, or substitute butternut squash for the sweet potatoes. Try using quinoa instead of brown rice, or drizzle on a different sauce. Cilantro lime dressing, green goddess dressing, or any of my tahini sauce variations would be great.

Rainbow Bowls with Almond-Ginger Dressing
Tender baby kale adds extra green power to this veggie-packed noodle bowl.

Cauliflower Rice Kimchi Bowls
This grain-free grain bowl is one of my favorite recipes to make when I’m in need of a healthy reset. With a base of cauliflower rice, it’s super light and nourishing. Still, sriracha baked tofu, kimchi, and a creamy coconut sauce pack it with bold flavor.

Peanut Noodle Kale Bowls, page 147 of The Love & Lemons Cookbook
This recipe = peanut sauce + noodles + a whole bunch of greens. What’s not to love?!

Macro Veggie Bowl
Double the sauce when you make this recipe. It’s a bright, brilliant turmeric tahini sauce, and it’s so flavorful that you’re going to want to drizzle it over everything!

Kale Pesto Mushroom Pistachio Bowls
Here’s another recipe where I use kale two ways. I add massaged kale to the base of the bowls and dollop a creamy kale pesto on top. See how green the pesto is? I make it with pistachios instead of pine nuts for extra-vivid color!


Instant Pot Zuppa Toscana

Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Between the fatty sausage and bacon, the potatoes, and the nutrient-dense kale, having a cup of this Zuppa Toscana will truly leave you feeling full for hours. Plus by making it in your Instant Pot, you'll have numerous cups of soup that you can meal prep and pack for the week ahead.

Get our recipe for Instant Pot Zuppa Toscana.


17 Kale Recipes That Will Make You Fall in Love with This Leafy Green

Looking for new ways to incorporate kale into your everyday meals? We have inspired and delicious recipes that make use of the dark, leafy green. Kale is loaded with nutrients, and these recipes give you plenty of ways to incorporate it into breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Whether you're adding kale to a salad or turning it into a fabulous sheet pan dinner, such as our Roasted Chicken with Kale and Tomato Panzanella, these recipes offer something for everyone and every occasion.

Kale becomes sweeter when grown in cold weather, so it's best to purchase between mid-fall through early spring. When shopping for kale, look for firm, deep-green leaves, and avoid any that are wilted or have yellow spots. To store, keep kale in the coldest part of your refrigerator, loosely wrapped in beeswax paper (plastic-free!). Though it seems like a sturdy vegetable, kale will quickly wilt and turn bitter, so use it quickly.

Kale is spectacular in so many recipes beyond just a sautéed vegetable side dish or as the base for a crunchy salad (though we certainly love it there, too). Take Sausage-and-Kale Stuffed Shells, for example&mdashwho knew that kale was what we were missing in a hearty baked pasta dish? It's the ultimate comfort food that we'll have on repeat all winter long.

Another great way to use kale is in soup. Its study leaves hold up well to the broth and hearty ingredients. Kale, White Bean, and Farro Soup is a delicious vegan recipe to enjoy when the weather gets cooler. Stracciatella Soup with Kale and Lemon updates the classic egg-based Italian soup by adding in leafy kale&mdashand the best part is that this tasty soup comes together in just 35 minutes.

Grab a bundle, strip the leaves, and get to work. Our delicious kale recipes are just around the corner.


Types of Kale

As kale gets its moment in the spotlight, you’ve probably been seeing more variety of the leaves at your supermarket—it’s no longer just the tough, woody stuff. From baby kale to lacinato kale, there are many unique varieties. Each one packs its own distinct texture and taste, and shines through different methods of cooking and serving.  

Baby Kale

Baby kale is smaller, softer, and less tough than other varieties, and doesn’t require the tedious process of de-stemming and trimming to become edible. This mild-flavored type of kale works well raw and is ideal for salads.

Curly Kale

Curly kale is what you’re used to seeing at your grocery store. Because this type of kale tends to be more bitter and woody, the leaves should be stripped from their stems before cooking and eating it. This variety takes well to sautéing, steaming, or any cooking method that softens the leaves. Before eating raw curly kale in a salad, you’ll need to tenderize it by letting the leaves sit in acid such as a citrus or vinegar-based dressing.

Lacinato Kale

Lacinato kale (also known as Tuscan kale) is arguably the most versatile: It can be enjoyed raw, or cooked due to its milder flavor, meaning you can use them in place of almost any green in your recipes. Also a bonus—you don’t need to worry about removing woody stems.

Purple Flowering Kale

Purple Flowering kale has a sweeter, less bitter taste than other types of kale and a beautiful purple color makes it stand out in salads. It&aposs delicious eaten raw, but make sure to remove the stems as they tend to be the most bitter part of the plant.

Red Kale

Red kale, with a distinctly nutty flavor and tough leaves, works best in recipes once it’s been cooked down a little. You can soften the leaves and stems by sautéing them or adding them to soups. The softened purple-red stems look beautiful when tossed with other greens.

White Flowering Kale

White Flowering kale tastes the closest to its cruciferous cabbage cousin. This peppery type of kale is perfect for cooking methods that soften its tough leaves such as braising or simmering in soups.


What is Tuscan kale?

Tuscan kale is an Italian variety with a dark green color and mild flavor. You can also find it labeled as Lacinato kale, dinosaur kale, black kale, or cavolo nero (black cabbage in Italian). Why is it called dinosaur kale? Its “scaly” leaves almost resemble dinosaur skin! The leaves are very dark green and flat, compared to curly kale which has frilly, brighter green leaves.

The flavor of Tuscan kale is milder and sweeter than curly kale, which can taste bitter and spicy. Tuscan is easier to use in recipes since it’s less bitter, and its stems are more tender than the curly variety.


The Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Kale and How to Use Them

Longtime health food staple kale became a trend at some point (thanks, Brooklyn), but it’s stayed so popular that now it’s just a fact of life. No longer destined just for juicers, it still gets the royal treatment on menus and even at home—including massages. Oh yeah. Those of us unafraid to get intimate with our food give the dark, bitter green a vigorous rubdown before chopping it up for a raw salad. This extensive guide returns the favor for your extra efforts, revealing the details of seven different types of kale and what to do with them, so you never get bored. And you always leave the table satisfied.

The Superfood Family What Are Superfoods? An ancient member of the Brassica family, kale is the sometimes spicy, other times a bit sweet, usually slightly bitter ancestor of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi. “Kale has roots deep in the horticultural soul,” says Suzanne DeJohn in her report for the Gardening Association of America.

The most common variety is deep green, but other kales are yellow-green, white, red, or purple, with either flat or ruffled leaves, according to Berkeley Wellness at University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health. The colored varieties — sometimes called salad Savoy — are most often grown for ornamental purposes, but they’re edible.

You’ve probably heard (for some, ad nauseam) that kale is a superfood. Yes, this green is packed with protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, fiber, and anti-cancer properties. And it has more vitamin C than any other leafy green. But “besides its good looks, flavor, and benefits to garden ecology, kale is good food,” DeJohn says.

Kale is one of the few leafy greens that doesn’t shrink much when you cook it, and it’s great sautéed, baked, roasted, and stewed. Just don’t over-cook it, because it can get more bitter than it was when raw.

OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner, $29.95 on Amazon

Easily wash (and dry) your kale in seconds with this salad spinner.

Even better than a dry massage, us Kale University grads like to drizzle olive oil, salt, and lemon juice while rubbing the leaves together in our hands to quicken the massage’s process of breaking up the cellulose structure. That way, you’ll get a slightly sweeter, much silkier kale. Also, you can just cut it in thin, confetti-like ribbons. But always, always remove the ribs, whether you go raw or turn up the heat. You can trash those ribs or chop them up and throw them into a soup or broth later.