Kale resembles collards, except that its leaves are curly at the edges and has a stronger flavor and a coarser texture. When cooked, kale doesn’t shrink as much as other greens. While the most common variety is deep green, other interesting kales can be yellow-green, white, red, or purple, with either flat or ruffled leaves. The colored varieties—sometimes called salad Savoy—are most often grown for ornamental purposes, but are pleasantly edible. A few varieties worth knowing about that are available either in markets or as seedlings in nurseries are:
- Curly kale:This is the type most often found in supermarkets. It has large, frilly-edged leaves and long stems. Kale grows in a loose head, but is often sold as loose leaves bound together. The color can range from pale to deep green with a slightly bluish hue. Curly kale is difficult to chop, but easy to tear, if fresh, with a noticeable pungent flavor with peppery and bitter qualities. Growers should look for the younger-looking leaves for less bitterness.
- Lacinato kale (Dinosaur Kale, Tuscan kale, cavolo nero): This Italian variety of kale is dark purplish green, with crinkly leaves and a sweet, slightly spicy flavor. It retains a firm texture even after cooked, and is slightly sweeter with a more delicate taste than curly kale.
- Ornamental (salad Savoy): Frilly and fluffy, ranging in color from pink to purple to magenta, this colorful variety is used on buffet tables for displays. It forms a rosette, which looks like an opened-up flower. While its leaves are somewhat coarse, it is edible, and its leaves hold up very well in a salad using tender raw leaves from the center. Larger, tougher leaves can be used wilted with a hot dressing.
- Red Russian (Ragged Jack): This type of kale is sold in markets as individual leaves like common kale. The leaves are bluish-green with a red rib. They don’t have the deeply frilly edges of common kale and often resemble overgrown oak leaves. Red Russian is popular because of its great flavor and is one of the sweetest kale varieties. A word of caution should be noted here because of its woody and fibrous stems, which are tough and should be removed since they can cause stomach upset.
- Whitekale: This variety of kale forms a rosette head like purple kale, but its frilly leaves are white. This variety has a strong flavor and a chewy texture, and a taste reminiscent of cabbage with an earthy finish. Once cooked, the texture softens and the flavor becomes sweet and nutty.
Regardless of variety, all kale plants have roughly the same outstanding nutritional content which characterizes them as a ‘superfood’. One cup of kale leaves has only 36 calories and contains 94 mg of calcium; minerals such as manganese and copper; strong helpings of vitamins A,C, and K, and a good dose of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are beneficial to eye health.
While most kale growers nationally feel that it is best grown in the winter – and is even tastier after a frost — kale is a year-around plant that thrives in the Southern California climate.
In general, kale seedlings can go from planting to harvesting in 55 to 65 days. Seeds can take approximately 20 days longer to produce edible leaves.
Where to Buy
Many kale seedling varieties are available from Rogers Gardens (Newport Beach) and Armstrong Nursery and Home Depot outlets throughout Southern California. Kale inventories tend to fluctuate during the year, with the largest variety availability during the general spring planting season. Kale seeds are also available from these same outlets, with Amazon offering perhaps the widest selection of kale varieties.
Other excellent kale seed sources are:
- Territorialseed.com (12 varieties), mostly very early harvesting
- Edenbrothers.com (11 varieties)
- Burpee.com (12 varieties)
Based on comments from kale growers around the country, the three names that come up the most for being the tastiest varieties are:
- Tronchuda Beira Hybrid (Burpee Seeds and others) it is also the most heat tolerant of all the varieties and thus should be a first choice for the Irvine garden in the summer. It produces large (24”) paddle-shaped sweet blue-green leaves. The downside is the long time to harvest: 80 days.
- Licanto – which seems to be everybody’s favorite.
- White Russian (territorialseed.com and others) – tender very sweet green and white leaves. Early to harvest.