On a recent episode of Top Chef: New Orleans, Food & Wine’s editor-in-chief Dana Cowin named kale as a trend that she’d like to see disappear. Recently, kale has starred on countless menus in the same salad variations, but to call the leafy vegetable merely a trend is misinformed, as it has had a place in food repertoires worldwide for quite some time. To know more about everything kale-related, we’ve outlined the basics that you should know.
Firstly, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what kale actually is. Kale, or borecole, is a leafy vegetable with colored leaves that comes in a plethora of different varieties. It exists within the same species — Brassica oleracea — as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and collard greens. The kale leaves and stems come in diverse colors and shapes, including tall and short, curled and plain leaved, tall-growing, horizontal-growing, and in colors ranging from blue-green to yellow-green to red.
The different varieties have distinctive tastes and appearances. These types include: Curly Green, Ornamental, Redbor, Premier, Siberian, Red Russian, Kamome (available in red, white, and fuchsia), and Lacinato, also known as Dinosaur kale.
In terms of its historical background, kale is a descendant of wild cabbage, which originated in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), and was later transported to Europe around 600 B.C. The ancient Greeks and Romans grew at least four different types of kale, including the widely known curly green variety. In the Middle Ages, peasants relied heavily on kale as it was hearty enough to grow in colder climates and provided key nutrients in their diets. In the 1600s, English settlers introduced kale into the Americas for the first time.
During World War II, kale appeared in the "Dig for Victory" campaign in England as a superfood because of its high nutritional properties and ease of growth, which was more important than ever during rationing. It would have been prepared by boiling at the time, and perhaps served with heartier vegetables like potatoes or leeks. In present-day America, kale is mostly grown on the East Coast, north of the Mason-Dixie Line, and collards are grown in the Southeastern states. Although kale is a relatively minor commercial crop in the United States, it is a popular winter green in Southern cuisine. Kale is a common addition to winter menus because cold weather makes the crop grow sweeter — kale has a hard time thriving in the heat.