The fashionable life of Kale
Kale, the quiet powerhouse.
The reason kale is the “it” veggie in the health world right now is because it is one of the most nutrient dense foods in the world. A single cup of kale (about 67 grams) possesses a serious amount of nutrients, not to mention fibre and protein. In that one cup you’ll find 206% of your daily vitamin A, 648% of your vitamin K, 134% of your vitamin C and roughly 10% of your daily vitamin B6, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium. All that is housed within only 33 calories, which is why it’s incredibly nutrient dense, particularly in nutrients that many people don’t get enough of in their usual daily diet.
On top of that, Kale is a source of two carotenoids and contains sulforaphane (a potent anti-cancer chemical). It’s also known to lower cholesterol and decrease the absorption of dietary fats.
The best way to access these nutrients is to eat kale raw, baked, braised, steamed or fried as boiling decreases the nutritional value.
Kale by any other name…
While kale is only recently experiencing healthy conscious fame, it’s been quietly playing a supporting role in many different food cultures, across many different places and time periods. The Dutch, Scandinavians, Germans, Scots, Chinese, Greeks and Romans all have their own particular names for kale.
Traditional dishes like stamppot (Dutch), colcannon (Irish), ribollita (Italian), caldo verde (Portugese), sukuma wiki (SE African), aojiru (Japanese), karalahana corbasi (Turkish), feijoada (Brazilian) and langkal (Danish) are all kale based. In Scotland, kale is such an important part of their traditional diet, that their word for kale (“kail”) is actually synonymous with the word for food. In northern Germany, they have whole festivals celebrating kale which, among other things, includes eating large qualities of kale stew and naming a “kale king/queen”.
But wait, none of these facts make kale TASTE any better.
Like all brassicas, kale can be very polarizing. People either love it or hate it. Just like it’s cousin, Brussles sprouts, kale contains a chemical similar to the PTC chemical (phenylthiocarbamide) that will taste bitter to people who have a variation of a certain gene. Basically some of the population have a mutation of the TAS2R38 gene that gives the taste sensation of bitterness when it interacts with PTC.
Now while PTC isn’t usually found in the human diet, the chemical is very similar to the chemicals found in brassicas. Which means that some people will take a bite of kale and their taste receptors will light up with alarms that they’re experiencing a bitter taste while others without the gene mutation will happily eat an entire kale salad and top it off with some cabbage and Brussles sprouts without ever tasting a bit of bitterness.
For real. It’s science.
That doesn’t mean we can’t entice you to try new ways of preparing kale that make it undeniably tasty.
Believing that you’re part of the population that has the mutated TAS2R38 gene does not give you a free pass to omit all brassicas from your life. First of all, many “bitter” veggies are incredibly healthy for you but along with brassicas on the bitter foods/drinks chart you’ll find a litany of other items that I think you’d be hard pressed to apply the same logic to. Are you really going to say no to asparagus, lettuce, rhubarb, tomatoes, olives, pumpkins, melons, grapefruits, hoppy beer, wine, coffee and dark chocolate (to name a few)?
That’s what I thought.
Since kale is so incredibly trendy right now, you’ll easily find dozens of recipes online that will help you make the best kale chips available or the most delicious green smoothies. Instead of offering you more health conscious kale recipes this week, we’re giving you some traditional ones. If kale is so important in so many food culture, someone must have it right!
Stamppot: This Dutch comfort food may be just the perfect thing to warm your table in autumn and a great way to use your CSA potatoes and onions too!
Colcannon: Suspiciously similar to the Dutch stamppot, this is the traditional Irish dish for Halloween gatherings. Sometimes charms are mixed in to the colcannon and depending in which charm ends up in your bowl, it will forecast your future.
Ribollita: An Italian baked stew that will blow your mind both because it tastes amazing and because it uses a whole pound of kale. A WHOLE POUND.
Caldo Verde: The Portugese do food right. This traditional kale soup is full of garlic and onions and will not only be the tastiest soup you’ve had all season but will be sure to kick any autumn colds in the butt.
Sukuma wiki: Cooking up this typical Kenyan meal of ugali, beef stew and sukuma wiki will not only look impressive but taste amazing. While often served together with stew and ugali, sukuma wiki is incredibly flavourful and will carry any meal.
Aojiru: A traditional Japanese kale drink that serves as a meal supplement, aojiru may not be the answer to the kale-hater’s menu but for those who love their green smoothies this may be just the thing.
Karalahana Corbsi: This Turkish soup is warm and inviting. Use the red pepper paste of your preference to make it spicy (aci) or sweet (tatli).
Feijoada: Brazil’s national dish, this stew is so integrated into their culture that Saturday is known as “the day of feijoada”. So now I guess you know what you’re doing this weekend.
långkål: There are a lot of variations on this Scandinavian staple but you can bet on it being the perfect compliment to a tasty ham entree.