Our deep dive into varieties of kale for all those leafy green enthusiasts out there! While curly kale is the most popular there are another 12 lesser-known varieties available.
It resembles a rough leafed silverbeet with thin stems, you will find grey/pale green and purple varieties. It is sold in bunches as it does not form a head and It boasts deep, earthy flavours that can range from rich and meaty to herbaceous and slightly bitter.
What is kale?
Kale a member of the mustard family, also called the brassica family. It is a variety of Brassica oleracea known as acephala, meaning “without a head”, and it is a form of primitive cabbage.
The nutrition in kale
Kale is a vitamin-packed leafy green, rich in antioxidants and packed with vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A – important for normal vision, the immune and reproductive systems
- Vitamin E – helps protect against free radicals, boosts the immune system, helps widen blood vessels and prevents blood clots.,
- Vitamin K – good for bone health and blood clotting
- B Vitamins, especially folate – they have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism.
- More Vitamin C than other leafy greens, good for immune function and maintenance of skin and hair
- It has a fair amount of protein and iron, it is high in fibre and it has more calcium than a glass of milk!
Like other cruciferous vegetables, it contains trace elements that may affect thyroid gland functions, so it is important to not eat it in large quantities or to cook it as this renders them inactive. But, it is still safe to enjoy a handful of kale on a daily basis.
- CURLY – is the most common type of kale found in your supermarket or greengrocer. It is pale to deep green with large, ruffled leaves and long stems. It is hardy and fibrous when fully mature, and tender enough to be used as a raw salad green when young.
- LACINATO OR BLACK – also called Italian Black Cabbage or Tuscan Kale. It is deep dark green almost black colour with curly edged leaves. It has a green cabbage flavour with a tangy bite and sweet aftertaste.
- PURPLE – it also has ruffled leaves that are bright purple in colour with different shades of dusty green. It has more intense cabbage flavour than that of green or black kale.
- BABY KALE – is the leaves of a young, immature kale plant and all kale varieties can be harvested and eaten at this early stage. It is milder and much more tender than mature varieties and both the stems and leaves can be eaten. It has a peppery taste just like arugula/rocket.
- WHITE / ORNAMENTAL – produces contrasting white midribs within its frilly green leaves. The centre of the plant becomes completely white when mature and it looks just like a flower. It has a strong flavour and chewy texture. Its taste a bit like cabbage with earthy notes. When cooked it has a softer texture and a sweet, nutty flavour.
Other kale varieties
These are lesser known varieties that can be found in some farmers markets and gourmet green grocers.
- BEIRA –it is similar to Swiss chard. With a high water content, it is succulent and crunchy with a sweet flavour, not earthy like other kale varieties.
- BRAZILIAN – it has flat round leaves with frilly edges and white veins in the centre. The stems are light green, short, thick and fibrous. It is crisp and tender with a green taste similar to cabbage.
- CHIDORI – it grows in tight compact heads with frilly leaves. It is fuchsia/magenta at its centre and dusty blue-green at the edges. Its stems are tough and fibrous. It has a robust cabbage flavour especially when raw.
- PURPLE RUSSAN- grows in a large loose rosette shape it is easily recognized by its richly coloured burgundy stems and purple-tinted leaves. It looks like an oak leaf with a dark green colour and deep red veins. It has a mild nutty flavour that is slightly sweet and earthy.
- KALE RAAB – is small and thin made up of stems, flower buds, and leaves. The colour of the stems ranges from dark green, pale green, to purple. The stems are topped with small unopened flower buds, they are soft and sweet and range from yellow to light green. The dusty green leaves are tender and crisp with serrated edges and a pronounced vein across the surface. It is juicy, earthy, and crisp with a sweet, nutty, and peppery taste.
- RED RUSSIAN – grows in rosettes with richly coloured burgundy stems and purple leaves. It has a mild nutty flavour that is slightly sweet and earthy with a hearty texture. When choosing Red Russian kale look for fresh, bright, firm leaves.
- SIBERIAN – has hardy white stems that and bluish-green leaves that are large and flat with edges that have a ruffled shape. It is exceptionally tender and offers a mild cabbage-like flavour. It develops a sweeter flavour in cooler weather, much like carrots.
SELECTION & Storage
Choose dark coloured bunches with small to medium leaves and avoid brown or yellow leaves.
Make sure that your kale is completely dry before storing it otherwise your risk contamination. Wrap your kale in paper towels then place it in a paper, plastic or zip log back. Kale is best kept in the crisper section of your fridge.
Kale can also be frozen to add to your smoothies or to cook with.
Wash the leaves carefully to remove any dirt then remove the stems and discard them. Shred kale thinly and massage for at least three minutes with your dressing or vinaigrette or some salt and lemon juice for at least 3 minutes. Massaging it makes a huge difference because it breaks down some of the plant’s fibrous cells.