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Lacinato Kale (left) with  (right)

Lacinato Kale (left) with Collard greens (right)

Kale is a form of cabbage (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group) in which the central leaves do not form a head. It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms. The species Brassica oleracea contains a wide array of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. The Cultivar Group Acephala also includes spring greens and collard greens, which are extremely similar genetically.


The most important growing areas lie in central and northern Europe and North America. Kale grows more rarely in tropical areas as it prefers cooler climates. Kale is the most robust cabbage type - indeed the hardiness of kale is unmatched by any other vegetable. Kale will also tolerate nearly all soils provided that drainage is satisfactory. Another advantage is that kale rarely suffers from pests and diseases of other members of the cabbage family - pigeons, club root and cabbage root fly (Delia radicum).


Until the end of the Middle Ages, kale was the common green vegetable in all of Europe. Curly leaved varieties of cabbage already existed along with flat leafed varieties in Greece, in the fourth century BC. These forms, which were referred to by the Romans as Sabellian kale, are considered to be the ancestors of modern kales. Today, one may differentiate between varieties according to the low, intermediate or high length of the stem, with varying leaf types. The leaf colours range from light green through green, dark green and violet-green to violet-brown. Russian kale was introduced into Canada (and then into the U.S.) by Russian traders in the 19th century.


Kale can be classified by leaf type:

  • Curly leaved (Scots kales)
  • Plain leaved
  • Rape kale
  • Leaf and spear (a cross between curly leaved and plain leaved kale)

Because kale can grow well into winter, one variety of Rape kale is called 'Hungry Gap', named after the period in winter in traditional agriculture when little could be harvested.

Culinary uses

Steamed kale and slivered
Steamed kale and slivered almonds

Kale freezes well and actually tastes sweeter and tastier after being exposed to a frost.

Tender kale greens can provide an intense addition to salads, particularly when combined with other such strongly-flavored ingredients such as dry-roasted peanuts, tamari-roasted almonds, or red pepper flakes.

A traditional Portuguese soup, caldo verde, combines mashed potatoes, sliced cooked spicy sausage, diced kale, olive oil, and broth. A whole culture around kale has developed in northwestern Germany around the towns of Bremen and Oldenburg. There, most social clubs of any kind will have a "Grühnkohlfahrt" ("kale tour") sometime in January, visiting a country inn to consume large quantities of kale, sausage and schnapps. Most communities in the area have a yearly kale festival which includes naming a "kale king."

Kale is rich in iron and vitamin C.

Decorative uses

Ornamental kale
Ornamental kale

A variety called flowering kale is grown mainly for its ornamental leaves, which are brilliant white or violet on the interior. Most plants sold as "ornamental cabbage" are in fact kales.


The Kailyard school of Scottish writers, which included J. M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan), consisted of authors who wrote about traditional rural Scottish life (kailyard = kale field).


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