Kale is so hip, the food world has begun predicting new trends in terms of their kale-iness. Is celery the new kale? Is cauliflower the new kale? Pshaw. As if those plebeian plants could unseat the king of fashionable leafy greens. Here are 11 oh-so-healthy things you should know about every foodie’s favorite cruciferous vegetable.
1. IT USED TO BE CALLED PEASANT'S CABBAGE.
Now, peasant’s cabbage is more like wealthy Hollywood superstar’s cabbage. The modern word “kale” came from a Scottish name for the plant, kail. The Scots started using the word “kailyard” to describe a small garden in the 14th century, and the term later came to be associated with a specific style of fiction about rural domestic life.
2. GREEKS USED SOMETHING LIKE IT TO SOBER UP.
Ancient Greeks boiled leafy greens to eat as a cure for drunkenness. It’s not certain which leaves they used, but there are early Roman documents that describe brassica, the genus that includes kale and related plants.
3. IT COMES FROM THE SAME PLANT AS BROCCOLI, BRUSSELS SPROUTS, AND CABBAGE.
All these dietary delights are versions of a species of mustard plant called Brassica oleracea. Over time, farmers used selective breeding to create the vastly different-looking vegetables we know today, called cole crops. That’s why the large leaves of cabbage look different from the bountiful flowers of broccoli or the multiple heads of brussels sprouts.
4. IT REALLY IS GOOD FOR YOU …
Gwyneth Paltrow was not lying to you. Besides being a good source of fiber (which Americans are bad at eating enough of), kale has more vitamin C than an orange. Studies have found that diets that incorporate a lot of cruciferous vegetables—a group that includes kale—are associated with lower risks of some cancers. The same substances that give kale its bitter taste, glucosinolates, break down during digestion to help inhibit the development of cancer, at least in studies of rodents.
5. … BUT YOU CAN OVERDO IT.
A diet that’s very high in cruciferous vegetables like kale can cause hypothyroidism in iodine-deficient people. Though scientists aren’t quite sure how the compounds interfere with thyroid glands, it has something to do with the same glucosinolates that make kale a cancer-fighter. So, maybe don’t eat it for every meal.
6. KALE IS DEFINITELY HAVING A MOMENT.
Between 2007 and 2012, farmers started producing 60 percent more kale a year. In 2014, a major kale seed supplier in the Netherlands ran out of its stock of kale seeds of every variety, prompting fears of a shortage.
7. NEW YORKERS EAT IT EVEN IN THE WORST OF TIMES.
A blizzard warning in New York City in January 2015 caused a run on kale in some parts of the city. Several grocery stores ran out of the veggie prior to the storm, showing that not everyone has the same views on what constitutes a necessary food staple.
8. THERE'S A REASON IT USUALLY COMES COOKED.
Raw kale is harder on the digestive system than the cooked variety, and can cause abdominal issues and bloating. Steamed kale is also better for lowering cholesterol, though raw kale may be more effective at lowering cancer rates. You can also opt to skip the heat and massage it to break down the plant’s cellulose structure and save your body some of the work.
9. NOT EVERYONE THINKS YOU SHOULD EAT MORE KALE.
Chik-fil-A sent the creator of a popular “Eat More Kale” shirt, Bo Muller-Moore, a cease-and-desist letter in 2011, saying that “Eat More Kale” was too much like the fast food company’s own slogan, “Eat More Chikin.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office allowed Muller-Moore to trademark his kale boosterism in 2014.
10. IT'S A FAST FOOD NOW.
In March, McDonald’s announced that it would start selling breakfast bowls featuring kale and spinach. Can you super-size that McKale, please?
11. THERE ARE PROVERBS ABOUT IT.
A proverb in the Shetland dialect (from far-northern Scotland) advises: "Dry sunny weather was best for 'maetin' (ripening) the corn and drying the peats; wet, misty or rainy weather grew best kale."
All images courtesy of iStock