What the Kale?
“There’s something amiss in our wellness culture when people feel so guilty about the fact that eating a bagel may feel infinitely better than eating a giant kale salad that they wind up in a clinician’s office essentially seeking “permission” to stop eating the kale salad.” -Tamara Duker Frueman R.D. Can we talk about kale? Like really, what happened there? Kale used to rule the restaurant menus, the Pinterest boards, it worked its way into far too many salads, but by 2019 kale sales were back to a pre-kale-chip craze in the early 2010s before it became a thing. Food trends typically have a lifespan of about 10-20 years. It seems like kale came in hot for about 7 or 8 years but never crossed over into a salad staple like romaine. Before 2012, the largest buyer of kale was Pizza Hut. Yes, Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut used kale as a decorative lining along the edges of platters.
How did pizza try lining become a superfood? Did anyone ever like kale? Kale’s tough texture made it difficult to prepare. It's best blistered, massaged, or ideally put into a recipe where it wasn’t noticed. Many superfoods have come and gone, but kale stands out as something that was always tough (literally). It was a staple of a “clean-eating” diet while other leafy greens with similar nutrient profiles didn’t achieve kale’s superstar status. Yes, it does have great nutrients, but so do a lot of vegetables and greens. Unlike other greens, kale has a profile that made it difficult to digest for some. It has high insoluble fiber which doesn’t get digested and other enzymes that can be difficult to digest. It’s also in the same family as cabbage and cauliflower. These are sturdy vegetables that require a lot of nitrogen to grow and contain natural sugars that can be difficult for many to eat raw or even cooked. Like many foods that become a trend, there's a complicated story (although hard to verify) about a fictional "American Kale Association" hiring a PR firm to make kale happen. However, the whole thing might have just been sort of a prank.
In the meantime, it's sort of a mystery how kale came into prominence even though eating kale is the definition of a tough sale. Pun intended. ;) No matter what marketing ploy put kale on center stage, since kale’s decline it’s been replaced with new greens that I personally find much more appealing. Dandelion greens are excellent for liver support and taste normal, sprouts like Organic Girl’s Protein Blend uses baby bok choy, mizuna, and sweet pea leaves. Tastes great.Classic arugula has a peppery taste I love in winter and as a garnish for soup or broth. The greens that come on top of beets can boost a salad profile and add a splash of color. In just the past 5 years the greens aisle has transformed – spinach is now extra, extra, washed, brands like Gotham Greens pack so much more flavor than what was available when kale entered our lives. Maybe at the end of the day kale was the bridge we needed to transition into greens with flavor and made consumers more open to vibrant greens.
Brooke's Take: Classic, peppery, arugula is my personal favorite for a winter salad. Pairs well with red onion, blue cheese, and something like blackberries. Arugula can also be garnish for a soup or broth. Most greens like lettuce, arugula, and spinach thrive in cold climates and can grow in small spaces like balcony planters. I also like using the greens that come on top of beets in salads, taste great and adds a dash of color. I tried to make collard greens once. It didn't work out.