There was a time, back in the day, when kale was one of the most widely avoided vegetables in grocery stores and farmer’s markets. It was also the one leafy green that most adults and kids would pick from their food at restaurants and keep it on the side.
However, in recent times, this very green leafy vegetable has become one of the biggest food trends in the culinary world. Kale has seen its popularity rise, and now, an increasing number of nutritionists are encouraging people to include this incredible vegetable in their daily diet.
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Kale is a loose-leafed edible plant and is an ancient member of the Brassica family, which also includes numerous other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
The origin of kale dates back to some 2000 years ago when it was one of the most widely consumed green vegetables in the middle ages. In those times, it was an important staple in most people’s diets. The main reason behind its popularity back then is the fact that it is a very easy-to-grow vegetable and is also highly resistant to cold temperatures.
However, this wasn’t the case in France, and there is quite a debate about how or when the French ate this leafy vegetable.
Although kale was definitely grown and eaten in France, it was actually a part of the légume oublié category, which translates to ‘lost and forgotten vegetables’ in English. Compared to turnips and parsnips that were popularly grown in France, kale was a much-forgotten kind of vegetable, and surprisingly, many farmers didn’t even know what this vegetable was.
Even during the period of WWI and WWII, kale fell seriously out of fashion. This decline in its popularity that initially began during the middle ages made it quite a ‘love-it-hate-it’ kind of vegetable.
However, it wasn’t until many years later that kale made its way into the vegan lifestyle. It was primarily part of the American diet, but soon enough, people from all around the world began to discover different amazing varieties of kale and also the incredible nutritious benefits of each type.
Kale may have started as a ‘forgotten’ vegetable, but it has now become quite a darling vegetable in the entire culinary world. The main reasons for that are its magical health benefits and its incredible nutritional profile.
This dark, leafy green vegetable is a nutrition-powerhouse and is packed essential minerals and vitamins like calcium, iron, protein, magnesium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K.
Find out some of its super amazing health benefits, after which, you are likely to make it a part of your daily diet!
Lowers Cholesterol Levels
One of the most important benefits of kale is that it helps lower cholesterol levels in the body. This reduction in cholesterol levels plays a big part in reducing the risk of heart disease. This vegetable contains bile acid sequestrants that help prevent bile acids from being absorbed by the body. This eventually causes a massive decrease in the amount of total cholesterol in the body.
Boosts Eye Health
All those suffering from weak eyesight and poor vision should definitely eat kale every day because it contains two of the most vital carotenoids that are essential for good eye health: lutein and zeaxanthin. Additionally, it also consists of high levels of beta carotene, which protects your eyes and prevents dangerous eye conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
Reduces Risk of Cancer
All vegetables that belong to the cruciferous vegetable family, including kale, contain natural compounds that have the ability to fend off cancer. These compounds present in kale help it protect our cells from mutations and DNA damage. Kale also inactivates cancer-causing compounds in the body, and in doing so, it can even stimulate the death of cancer cells.
Different Varieties of Kale
One of the many reasons that led to kale’s popularity all across the world is the fact that it doesn’t just come in one variety, but there are several varieties of this delicious and nutrient-rich vegetable.
From red kale to baby kale, each variety is unique in terms of their appearance, taste, and benefits.
Take a look at some of the most popular types of kale that will take your meal to a whole new level by adding in a boost of rich and healthy greens!
This is the most common and recognizable type of kale that is best characterized by its crinkly leaves. It is also the most commonly found kale variety in numerous grocery stores and at restaurants. Curly kale is known for its pale to deep green color and those large, tight-ruffled leaves with frilly edges and long stems.
Curly kale has quite a distinctive peppery flavor that often leaves a very bitter-tangy aftertaste in the mouth. The bright green leaves of this leafy vegetable are sometimes so tightly curled that it can be quite tough to chop them.
Like other types of kale, curly kale is extremely nutritious and contains a high amount of essential antioxidants, including vitamin B6, vitamin K, and potassium. Interestingly, it contains a higher amount of vitamin C than an orange!
Most people use curly kale to make crispy kale chips since its curly edges get really crunchy and delicious in the oven. It is also featured in a lot of salads because of its mild pungent flavor that greatly enhances the overall taste of the food. However, when eating curly kale raw, you need to rub a bit of salt and lemon juice on the leaves as it is a bit tough compared to other kale varieties.
Also known as “Early Hanover,” Premier kale is a newer variety of this healthy leafy vegetable. It is a high yielding type of kale and is most notable for its early maturity and cold hardiness. It produces medium-green foliage, and its leaves grow almost a foot long.
Its leaves are very smooth and have prominent scalloped edges. It is highly rich in antioxidants and especially beta carotene, an organic pigment found in most fresh fruits and vegetables. Our bodies convert beta carotene into vitamin A, which is a vital vitamin for a healthy and well-functioning immune system.
Premier kale is considered to be the most flavorful of all kale varieties and is used in numerous food dishes and recipes such as cold sandwiches and fresh salads. Many people also eat it raw due to its rich taste and the fact that it is not as tough or pungent as other types of kale.
Walking Stick Kale
As evident from the name, the Walking Stick Kale is quite an unusual type of kale. One of the best ways to identify this plant in any garden is through its height since it grows over 6 feet tall! The unique name of this kale actually comes from the fact that its long stems can be dried properly, laminated, and then used as a sturdy walking stick or even a cane!
The walking stick kale plant produces a very sturdy, long, and a straight stem that almost bursts into a huge tuft of multiple green leaves. This kale variety is also often referred to as ‘walking stick cabbage’ because its leaves sometimes look like a fluff of cabbage.
As impressive as the size of this vegetable plant is, it also requires a greater amount of care and attention when growing it as compared to other kale varieties. One of its key growing requirements is the ideal overall climate, which has to be 75 degrees Fahrenheit because that is when the plant grows best. The soil should also be well-drained and must consist of layers of organic compost.
Although walking stick kale is quite an unusual plant, its leaves are absolutely edible and also very delicious. The incredibly large size of its leaves makes them a great option to be used as tortilla wrappers as well as in spring rolls. Interestingly, numerous African cuisines use the large leaves of the walking stick kale as serving platters and even as edible plates!
This is one of the most cold-hardy varieties of kale and is considered to be a completely different species from other members of the kale family. Siberian kale is more closely to various species of turnip rather than those of kale. The fact that it is extremely cold-hardy makes it exceptionally resistant to pests and the cold weather.
Siberian kale produces long, thin stems with big, gray-green, ruffled leaves that have a very mild taste as compared to the other kale varieties. The leaves are extremely firm and have a very rubbery texture that makes them almost unpleasant when eaten raw.
The strange texture of the leaves is why most people prefer to sauté Siberian kale or cook it with olive oil and garlic. Sautéed Siberian kale leaves work as an excellent side dish and even in rich, leafy salads.
This vegetable plant is mostly known for its bright yellow flowers whose seeds play a significant role in the production of rapeseed oil. This is one reason why the Siberian kale plant is also sometimes called ‘annual rape’ or ‘rape kale.’ The rapeseed oil produced by its yellow flowers is highly rich in omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids which make it a super healthy and a nutritious type of oil.
Also known as ‘red kale’ and ‘scarlet kale,’ the red Russian kale is a favorite of many people. It mainly originated in Siberia but was later popularized in North America by traders during the 1800s.
This kale variety of sports great similarities to curly kale except for its unique appearance. It has flat, light green, fringed leaves that look like the other leaves of a full-grown cabbage. True to its name, the leaves of this plan often consist of a beautiful red tinge and its stem boasts a gorgeous reddish-purple shade.
Red Russian kale is most popular for its distinctive flavor that is often described as mild and sweet with a slight peppery kick. This flavor combination makes it one of the sweetest kales, and also means that it is best eaten raw in a delicious kale salad. The color of its leaves looks amazing on the plate, almost too pretty to eat!
This kale variety has the highest amount of vitamins and minerals, even more than the combined amount of all other kale varieties. Red Russian kale is particularly beneficial for your bones since it is incredibly high in calcium, which is a vital element for strong bones.
The best way to get the maximum amount of nutrients from Russian red kale is to use it in smoothies, salads, and juices. The key is to lightly massage the leaves in order to soften them and break down the fibers. Doing this not only extracts the maximum nutrients from the leaves, but it also makes it easier for you to digest them.
If you are not a fan of salads and smoothies, you can always sauté kale leaves in a little olive oil with garlic, lemon juice, and sea salt. However, make sure to remove the stems because they are incredibly tough and woody, which makes it very difficult for one to chew and swallow them.
Often called a ‘statement-maker,’ Redbor kale walks a fine line between an ornamental plant and a food crop. This kale variety sports a beautiful dark red color that has deep purple undertones. It has super curly and frilly leaves that also boast a stunning shade of deep red.
Redbor kale is commonly grown in gardens given its breathtaking appearance and ornamental value. Its curly reddish leaves often turn a deep violet color in cold weather, making it look simply mesmerizing. That is why many people often use it as an edible plate décor.
This kale variety is an excellent source of essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C, proteins, calcium, iron, magnesium, dietary fiber, and potassium. It is rich in antioxidants, the most important of which is ALA (alpha-lipoic acid). This antioxidant is believed to significantly help people with diabetes as it helps lower their blood sugar levels and also boosts their heart health.
The best way to enjoy Redbor kale is to soften it and feature it in soups and salads. You can also make a quick side dish with these kale leaves by sautéing them with some olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and apple cider vinegar. What makes this kale variety even more enjoyable is its crisp texture coupled with its nutty and earthy-sweet flavor.
After curly kale, lacinato kale is probably the second most popular kale variety that you are likely to find in the vegetable section of most grocery stores. This type of kale is known by several other names, including Tuscan kale and dinosaur kale. The name ‘dinosaur kale’ has stemmed from the fact that its leaves are often bumpy – this texture greatly resembles the skin of a dinosaur.
Fascinatingly, lacinato kale has once been called “the darling of the culinary world” primarily because of its earthy-bitter taste and the unique appearance of its leaves that look gorgeous on a plate.
Lacinato kale is characterized by its long, dark gray leaves that look extremely aesthetically pleasant when grown in a garden. It is also known for its super dark color and thin texture and appearance. Its wrinkly leaves often sport a bluish-green tinge that makes them look beautiful on a plate.
Since the leaves of lacinato kale are thinner and chewier than other kale varieties, they are way easier to eat and also release a very rich, earthy flavor. The best part about the hearty leaves of this type of kale is that they retain their flavor and texture even after being cooked. Their deep and earthy flavor also contains a nutty sweetness, which is extremely delicious when eaten raw.
Since lacinato kale has an Italian origin, it often features in pesto and minestrone. Other than that, it is commonly added to vegetables in the form of thin strips that pair best with pressed garlic, olive oil, and chili flakes.
Given its remarkable similarity to western broccoli, Chinese kale has come to be known as ‘Chinese broccoli’ over the years. It is quite an interesting and delicious vegetable that mainly originated in China.
Chinese kale is found in two main varieties, one that has yellow flowers and another that has white flowers. The latter type of Chinese kale grows almost 19 inches tall while the former type grows only 8 inches tall.
Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli is basically a leafy green that is majorly a part of the cabbage family. This is one reason you will find many people substituting Chinese kale with regular broccoli in several Chinese recipes.
This variety of kale produces thick, fat leaves that sport a glossy blue-green color with cute flower heads that look a lot like broccoli, except that they are much smaller. Interestingly, even the flavor of Chinese kale is very similar to that of broccoli, with the only difference being that the former has a slightly bitter and a stronger flavor.
Like almost all other types of kale, Chinese kale also has a strong nutritional profile, and it is a rich source of vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Given their unique, bitter, and strong taste, Chinese kale leaves are often served in sweetened sauces.
This is exactly what the name suggests: a younger and an immature version of regular kale. The leaves of baby kale come from a young kale plant, and they have a very mild and delicate flavor. The leaves of this plant are also softer with a tender texture, which makes them ideal for eating raw.
Baby kale is probably one of the easiest varieties of kale to find at most grocery stores, and they are also the easiest to use, given their soft texture. Its leaves sport great similarity to those of curly kale in terms of taste and appearance, except that baby kale has much smaller and thinner leaves.
Quite contrary to its name, baby kale is an actual powerhouse in terms of its nutritional value and content. It is highly rich in vitamins C, A and K1, as well as calcium and iron. This makes it an incredible superfood that you must include in your daily diet.
The origin of baby kale dates back to ancient Roman and Egyptian times where it was one of the most popularly consumed types of leafy greens. It is commonly grown during the cold weather, but can also grow all year round given that it is provided with well-drained soil and full-to-partial shade conditions.
Baby kale is ideal for eating raw in salads and also for green, healthy smoothies. If you are not a fan eating kale leaves, you can always sauté them in olive oil and top them with your favorite seasonings.
This is a Portuguese type of kale and is one of the least common kale varieties. However, it is highly distinguishable from other types of kale given its unique appearance. It has stunning bluish-green leaves that are incredibly soft and have a circular shape. They grow slender stems that are usually white and light green in color.
Tronchuda kale has really thick and soft leaves that make it a great option for juicing. You can easily add it to your green smoothies and juices to get that light, cabbage-like taste. It contains a high amount of beneficial nutrients and has low carb content, which makes it a must-have superfood.
This variety of kale might not be as popular as the other types, but it is an outstanding plant with the most impressive heat-tolerant properties. It is also very easy to grow and looks absolutely stunning in whichever garden it is grown.
Kale is undoubtedly a leafy green that has come a long way and is now featured in most food dishes and recipes. So, whenever you’re feeling particularly health-conscious, whip yourself up a delicious kale green smoothie or perhaps, make some crunchy kale chips and give your health a major boost with every single bite!