Kale is overrated

In the last five years kale has been increasingly overhyped. It’s gone from nowhere to becoming, in some circles at least, a cure-all health food; moving from yesterday’s unappetising green into the choice of the urban sophisticate. Once granny’s mom served it up; boiled to death, dished out with mashed potato and meatloaf, now kale coleslaw is the darling of raw vegan foodists, and gym-worshiping health fanatics.

For centuries kale — wild cabbage — was Europe’s staple vegetable, hardy, and nutritious, but it fell out of favour. Now it’s bounced back, championed by an army of YouTube ‘health experts’ and self-appointed diet gurus. It’s relatively cheap and obtainable, especially now that it’s reappeared in supermarkets, chopped and packed in bags (usually looking less than vividly green it could be), but ever-so-convenient. You can find fresh whole leaf kale in good fruit and vegetable shops, and organic health food stores.

So, it’s cheap, and it is a healthy green leaf vegetable — but what do you do with the stuff? The traditional kale preparation method is to boil it, but these days it’s more civilised to use a steamer, which also keeps in more of the goodness. Personally, I think it goes well when it’s seasoned with sesame oil and soya sauce, oriental style. If you want to serve a delicious, luxury version (luxury is usually a code word for high calorie), you can part steam it, and finish it off by frying it in butter with some bacon.

Kale’s other claim to fame comes in the form of the ever-popular smoothie. I’m a big fan of the smoothie, which has been around for a long time; the term ‘smoothie’ was coined back in the 1930s when powerful blenders like the Vita-mix became available. In the 1950s fruit smoothies were popularly sold alongside milkshakes.

Today, the big comeback for the smoothie has been the ‘green machine’, which comes in a number of green vegetable variations, usually incorporating kale or spinach, and sweetened with a combination of fruit (including apples, kiwi, banana, mango, and pineapple), and pepped up with ginger or parsley. The green smoothie works best when it balances the sweetness of the fruit with the grassy bitterness of kale or spinach. While there’s something to be said for the green smoothie, it can also result in the over-consumption of kale, and smoothies that just don’t taste great. There are people who believe kale is a ‘super food’, and consuming relatively large quantities can cure a range of diseases and ailments, although none of this is actually scientifically proven. (Consumed in large quantities kale can even be detrimental to your health).

Kale has its place, but the excited claims made for it by self-declared diet and lifestyle gurus, as some kind of ‘wonder food’, are vastly exaggerated.