Although it may not resemble it, Kale (Borecole) is actually part of the cabbage family. There are several cultivars of Kale, the most common being the curly variety. It can be found either green or purple. It’s more correctly known as Scots Kale. The dark, flat leaf cultivar (Cavolo nero) is known by a number of names such as black cabbage, Tuscan Cabbage, Tuscan Kale, Laciniato, or Dinosaur Kale. There are also the flowering, ornamental varieties commonly sold as “ornamental cabbage”. They are treasured for their lovely, cold-hardy, leaves which are purple, white, pink, yellow, red, or lavender in color. Little appreciated is the fact that ornamental kale is just as edible as any other variety.
I could really get on my soapbox about all the wonderful health benefits of eating Kale. It’s chocked full of vitamins K, A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, and well as protein, phosphorous, iron, copper, potassium, and tryptophan. It also contains lutein, zeaxanthin, beta carotene, manganese, sulforaphane (a chemical believed to have potent anti-cancer properties), caratenoids, and is also reasonably rich in calcium. Recently, research has also found that Kale contains at least 45 different antioxidant flavonoids including Kaempferol and Quercitin. It’s also superior in macronutirents such as fiber and omega-3’s.
Research into the health benefits of Kale have concentrated mostly on it’s relationship to cancer. Kale stands out in three particular areas; antioxidant nutrients, anti-inflammatory nutrients, and glucosinolates. Without a proper intake of antioxidants, we can experience a metabolic problem known as “oxidative stress”. Both oxidative stress and chronic inflammation are risk factors for cancer development.
Kale is a top food source for at least four glucosinolates, and once kale is eaten and digested, these glucosinolates can be converted by the body into cancer preventive compounds. Kale’s glucosinolates and the ITCs made from them have well-documented cancer preventive properties, and in some cases, cancer treatment properties as well. At the top of the cancer-related research for kale are colon cancer and breast cancer, but risk of bladder cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer have all been found to decrease in relationship to routine intake of kale.1
Kale is most commonly eaten cooked although it’s use and versatility as a raw food is growing and has been very well known in the raw food community for many years. One of my favorite salads is Kicker Kale – Bajan Style. Kale leaves are a bit tough. They are commonly softened before eating raw using a combination of oil and salt, or lemon juice. This will tenderize the leaves for a more delicate texture. Alternatively, some enjoy kale in a green salad just in it’s pure form. As with many vegetables within the Brassica family, studies indicate that Kale is most beneficial just lightly steamed. This maximizes Kale’s superior ability to lower cholesterol, as well as increasing the total absorption of nutrients.
Kale can be found around the world and is known to have been used by both the Greeks and the Romans for thousands of years. It’s a cold weather plant but is cultivated year-round. In summary, Kale is one of my personal favorites. I frequently eat in in salads. I juice it to jump-start my day. I use it in green smoothies and dehydrate it in recipes like Kale Patties (from RawGuru.com). I especially love it’s appeal as a snack food replacement for salty chips. Variety is the spice of life and the secret to a truly healthy self. However, if my food supply had to be limited to just a small selection of carefully chosen foods, Kale would certianly be on my list. For what it’s worth, I HIGHLY encourage anyone to include more Kale in their diet.