Kale: pin up boy of superfoods, king among veg, but is it worthy of the hype?
It’s still the hero of green smoothies everywhere; a darling of foodies and wellness gurus alike; a staple on hipster menus; and its hailed as an all round ‘nutritional powerhouse’. But is the hype around kale really warranted? This blog argues that it is. But not for the reasons you expect.
So why all the hype?
There’s no doubt that kale is nutritious. Highly nutritious even. It’s list of nutritional attributes is as long as your arm: it’s high in vitamins A, C, K, calcium, dietary fibre, iron, folate, magnesium, potassium, protein and the list goes on. You can see a comprehensive list of the health benefits kale offers here. Plus it’s fat free and low in calories. In short, it’s not hard to see then why it’s become a favourite of vegan, paleo and gluten-free diets – it’s really good for you!
Yet kale is not any more nutritionally exceptional than many other leafy greens. And there are plenty that are in fact higher in nutritional value than kale. According to this 2014 study, watercress, chard, beet greens, spinach and 10 others get a ‘nutrient density’ score higher than kale. That’s a whopping 14 superfoods more super than kale. And none of these have quite the celebrity status that kale has managed to acquire.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that kale’s darling status has less to do with its nutritional prowess and more to do with marketing trends. There are a plethora of articles on the internet explaining how this previously obscure vegetable rose to fame, many of them crediting Oberon Sinclair, a PR specialist, as the person behind the rise of the kale trend. Mind Body Green has written a particularly interesting article on Sinclair and the mysterious American Kale Association. No doubt kale’s launch into the veggisphere can also be attributed to various celebrity endorsements. The likes of Gwyneth, Maddona, Beyonce Martha Stewart and Jamie Oliver have all jumped on the kale bandwagon over the years, promoting it as the ‘it’ vegetable of the moment.
But trends, by definition, come and go. A Good Food article forecasts that kale’s heady days in the limelight are already numbered. Forecast to be subsumed by new trends featuring even more super superfoods, hybrid vegetables, root vegetables and cauliflower, kale may be put out to pasture before you can say “I’ll take another green smoothie, thanks”.
Why it’s worthy of the hype
In my opinion there is good reason for us to embrace our beloved kale well beyond the ‘use by date’ to be determined by the trend Gods. And while I love a good fill of antioxidants, my argument has nothing to do with kale’s nutritional prowess and everything to do with growing it yourself.
As an avid proponent of growing more of our own food on a small scale, kale is hard to beat when it comes to growing your own in my books. It has countless positive attributes for the home gardener:
- It’s easy to grow and low maintenance, making it the ideal vegetable for novice gardeners and old hands alike;
- It’s hardy, and will survive (thrive even) during the colder months;
- It doesn’t require full sun, so you can relegate it to the B side of your gardening space where other veggies will refuse to grow;
- It’s biennial, meaning a single plant will continue to produce year-round and into the following year;
- Its verdant green foliage looks spectacular in the garden;
- There are plenty of cool-looking varieties, so you can plant more than one and give your veggie plot a dynamic look; and
- You have a guaranteed organic supply of garden to table veg.
I recently included kale in my top 6 vegetables for fall container gardening. Check it out here if you are interested in how to grow kale from seed.
The thing is, for all the hype around kale, people still seem to baulk at cooking with it because they simply don’t seem to know where to start. As a reasonably new vegetable to our diets, we haven’t built up the go-to repertoire of recipes that we have with potatoes, beans and carrots. And this, I fear, could be kale’s true downfall: once it disappears off menus, it will completely fade into obscurity as home cooks are left scratching their heads on what to do with it.
This need not be the case. In actual fact, kale is quite a versatile vegetable, and it won’t take long to grow a repertoire of dishes that include your home grown kale. Examples include substituting raw kale for lettuce in any cold salads or sautéing and stir-frying it as a substitute in spinach recipes. Already the possibilities become endless, but if you’re still left wondering you can find a whole host of super simple kale recipes to get you started here.
And finally, there’s kale chips. Perhaps the recipe that bought kale much of its early fame, but I maintain that this recipe alone warrants keeping kale around. It is so easy and so tasty (although I won’t vouch for it’s nutritional content). And there’s nothing to it: lather you kale in olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper and bake til crisp. A recipe guaranteed to wow every dinner guest, always.