What exactly is kale?
It’s a leafy green vegetable, a member of the cabbage (brassica) family. The two most common types are:
- Curly – or Scots – pictured above
- Cavolo nero – black cabbage, lacinato or dinosaur kale – pictured below
Kale is a wonderful thing: rich in vitamins – particularly A, C, B6, B9 and K – it also contains manganese, iron, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. It contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, pigments thought to be advantageous to eye health. It’s also a sulphur-rich vegetable, important for the formation of antioxidants and helpful for the condition of hair, muscles, cardiovascular system and central nervous system. Download PDF »
In the UK, a lot is grown in Lincolnshire. A great deal of US stock is grown in California. Organic is available in most supermarkets, although it’s usually pre-chopped, so will lose its nutrients more quickly. You may find whole leaves at a local farmers’ market, and organic delivery services such as Abel & Cole or Riverford supply them in season.
It’s is a very versatile vegetable – you can eat it raw or cooked in a variety of ways:
- Shred it finely and add it raw to salads – best mixed with softer leaves such as spinach or lettuce
- Add it to smoothies or juices – best to combine with a sharp element such as lemon juice and a sweet element such as grapes
- Chop it coarsely and steam it or add it to stir-fries
- Make it into crispy chips for a crunchy snack or side dish
- It was one of the most common green vegetables in Europe up to around the 15th Century.
- Curly-leaved varieties of cabbage existed in Greece as far back as the fourth century BC
- It’s historically such an important element of the Scottish diet, that to be ‘off your kail’ in Scots dialect is to be off your food
- In the Southern USA it’s often braised with other greens such as collard or turnip
- In Brazil it’s used as a side dish for a stew called feijoada
- In South East Africa it’s boiled with coconut milk and peanuts
- In Holland it’s mixed with mashed potatoes for a traditional winter dish – similar to the Irish colcannon
- In Italy, cavolo nero is used in a variety of dishes, such as ribollita, a Tuscan soup
- In Northern Germany, many social clubs organise kale tours – Grünkohlessen – during winter, where they visit a local inn to eat kale stew
- Curly kale is used in Scandinavia as part of the julbord – the traditional Christmas buffet
- In Portugal caldo verde is a traditional soup made with kale and potatoes
- It features widely in Turkey, especially around the Black Sea
- Kai-lan, a variety of kale, is commonly eaten in China, Taiwan and Vietnam
- In Japan and South Korea, kale juice is used as a nutritional supplement
Many of the above methods of preparation require boiling, which will destroy a lot of nutrients. For the best nutritional value, it’s best to eat it raw or lightly cooked, and drink or re-use any remaining water from steaming.
Got any tips or questions of your own about kale? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.