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Exploring Kale: The Super Veggie

Updated on August 2, 2017

Vegetables are a must on a diet; I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.

— Jim Davis (Garfield cartoonist)
Beautiful kale in its simplest form
Beautiful kale in its simplest form

Stop the Madness!

The stuff of every child’s nightmare—the suspicious green vegetable—has invaded every corner of our lives. No matter where you go, when you dine out, if it’s green, it’s kale.

The romaine lettuce of Caesar salad has been replaced by kale, and Popeye is no doubt gulping down canned kale in place of his beloved spinach.

We are a nation obsessed with kale! Kale salad. Kale soup. Kale casseroles, chips, designer t-shirts, and (can you believe it) even kale cake!

Kale Birthday Cake. Have we gone too far?
Kale Birthday Cake. Have we gone too far? | Source

Please, don't misunderstand me--I love kale. It has many health benefits (things called bioflavonoids, antioxidants and other terms I cannot pronounce or understand).

It is inexpensive and available year-round. It tastes wonderful--but not in a smoothie, brownie, or cupcake. The current mania is turning kale into a four-letter word, the "tofu" of the 21st century.

Consider for a moment--it isn't that long ago that kale was nothing more than the green frill that separated the rows of pork chops from the sirloin steaks at the butcher shop and now it is ubiquitous.

Let's step back for a moment and reconsider how to use (and not abuse) this culinary super-star.


A Long Time Ago...

(But not in another galaxy) Brassica oleracea was growing wild in the Mediterranean region of Europe. Kale is not a recent fad. As man began farming and choosing the largest plants for propagation, wild kale/cabbage plants selectively became larger and larger, until they developed into the plants we would recognize today.

In 600 B.C. Greek philosopher Theophrastus wrote of kale in his book on plants. (Ancient Greeks boiled and ate the leaves as a hangover remedy). Cato advised eating cabbage soaked in vinegar before embarking upon an evening of heavy drinking and the accepted remedy for a Roman hangover was simply more cabbage. Pliny the Elder (Roman philosopher and author) also wrote of the medicinal properties of kale.

...Far, Far Away

And by the 6th century B.C. the people we have named the Celts had gradually infiltrated Britain. With them came kale and its cabbage cousins. By the 5th century B.C., selective cultivation was leading to an increasingly "leafy" plant. The botanical name of the kale that we eat today is Brassica oleracea acephala which translates "cabbage of the vegetable garden without a head."

Until the Middle Ages, kale was the most popular vegetable in Europe. As a source of calcium and iron, it was a blessing to those who could not afford meat, and its hardy nature made it able to withstand even the harsh winters of Scotland and Ireland. Cabbage and kale, along with leeks and onions, were the main sources of food for the British Isles until the introduction of the potato.

In fact kale (known as kail in Scotland and cole in England) came to mean the meal itself—the main meal of the day and the Scot vegetable garden was commonly called a "kail garden."

Kailyard at Robert Burns cottage
Kailyard at Robert Burns cottage | Source

But They Were Willing to Share

It was French navigator Jacques Cartier who brought cabbage and kale seeds to the Americas in 1536. The explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries carried greens in their ship's stores for their crews to eat--the high Vitamin C content helped stave off the scurvy that was so common among sailors.

And the rest, as they say, is history!

Fast Forward to Today

Kale is just one variety of the large Brassica family. The short list of relatives is given below:

Leafy Greens
Edible Head
Root (see heat level)
daikon (hottest)
bok choy
horseradish (hottest)
brussels sprouts
radish (medium heat)
collard greens
rutabaga (mild)
turnip (mild)
napa cabbage
wasabi (hottest)
savoy cabbage

How To Use Them

Members of the kale/cabbage family are interchangeable in most recipes. Any leafy choice in the above table can substitute for another leafy cousin. And the same can be said for the "head" versions.

The roots are a bit more complicated--rutabaga and turnip have a very mild flavor, radish is slightly more assertive, and daikon, horseradish, and wasabi are extremely hot. I would not use horseradish in the place of a turnip.

Now, with those guidelines established, let's delve into some serious (non-smoothie or -dessert) recipes that use kale.

Cast your vote for Kale Recipes


Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad


  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts
  • 1 large bunch Tuscan kale, center stems removed
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup onion, minced
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Thinly slice the brussels sprouts with a sharp knife or food processor
  2. Thinly slice the kale.
  3. Whisk together the cheese, olive oil, nuts, Dijon, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper.
  4. Add the brussels sprouts and kale and toss to coat the vegetables with the cheese/lemon dressing.

Turkey-Kale Meatloaf


  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2 cups finely chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Coat a 9- x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, combine all ingredients; mix well. Press mixture into prepared pan.
  • Bake 60 to 65 minutes, or until no longer pink in center.
  • Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Kale and Cabbage Trivia

  • Because cabbage requires only three months of growing time, one acre of cabbage will yield more edible vegetables than any other plant.
  • Cabbage is considered Russia's national food. Russians eat about seven times as much cabbage as the average North American.
  • Scrolls from 1000 BC uncovered in China mention white cabbage as a cure for baldness in men.

French Lentils with Kale and Shrimp
French Lentils with Kale and Shrimp | Source

© 2015 Linda Lum


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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well I will be my son was right on the money. I asked him if he meant I was to knead the leaves. He probably was right to look at me like I was crazy but only because he did not know what knead was - 2nd definition of course.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 16 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric - Here's a long answer to a short question. If you purchase "baby kale" leaves you can eat the whole thing--it's wonderful in salads.

      More "mature" kale (the kind you purchase in a bunch, like mustard greens or collards) need a bit more fussing. First cut out the central stem (don't use it in your salad, but don't throw it away either. I dice it and simmer in soup as I would celery). OK, now back to those leaves that you stripped from the stalks. Tear into bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl and drizzle on a bit of good-quality olive oil. Now, here comes the fun part. Give those leaves a massage. No, really, using your hands work the oil into and over those leaves for 2 minutes and then let it sit for about half an hour.

      I don't do smoothies so can't give you any advice on those, but I just did a Google search and found a lot of information.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Linda, I just looked this up. We need more variety in our salads -- I was wondering do you have to do something with it in order to break it down for proper digestion, or is that a legend?

      And now; why not in smoothies?

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very beautiful and interesting hub on kale and its family. You mentioned many facts unknown to us. We, here in India use more of palak and spinach and cabbage. I don't see kale here.

      Thanks for sharing this beautiful knowledge. Voted up.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Emese - I always try to include a bit of information, history, or a story with my food topics. There is so much more to food that merely eating.

    • Emese Fromm profile image

      EmeseRéka 2 years ago from The Desert

      Great article on kale! We use it in our family (though can't abuse it with kid and teenagers around, they still don't love it), and your recipes will come in handy :). I enjoyed the way you presented it, with the history and recipes.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I just might take you up on that offer. Would love to see your little farm and meet you and Bev. Yes, I'm sure the rabbits love it--I know that the deer certainly do.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Come on over. We have so many plants we are giving it away. :) If I ever start feeling inadequate as a gardener/urban farmer, all I have to do is look at our kale crop and I'll feel better. And by the way, Linda, rabbits love it. :)