Meet Kale

Super food feature Kale is making the mother of all comebacks

Words: Nigel Adlam

Kale is making the mother of all comebacks.

It is the closest thing to wild cabbage – from which broccoli, cauliflower and every kids’ favourite, brussels sprouts, were “engineered” – and was one of the most common veggies in Europe until 400 years ago.

Greeks were munching on it at least as early as the 4th century BC and the Romans loved it.

But kale fell out of fashion for centuries in western Europe, although not in Russia, where it remained a staple.

Two reasons for its decline could have been that it used to be possible to get it to flower only every two years and the development of other, more productive strains of cabbage.

Demand has risen sharply in the past couple of decades as the health benefits of kale become better known and there is now such demand that there is a worldwide shortage.

According to Wikipedia, a kale culture is storming the world.

In Italy, kale (cavolo nero) is used in many dishes, such as stew, porridge, cheese and even olive oil.

Germans have taken the culture to extremes – social clubs run kale tours during the harvest; the idea is to visit country pubs and eat as much kale as possible, washed down, no doubt, by steiners of frothing beer.

There are annual kale festivals, which include the naming of a kale king and queen.

The Germans put the vegetable in sausages, such as mettwurst, stews and even schnapps.

Scots have long loved their kale; in fact, the word is synonymous with “food”, such as being “off one’s kale” is feeling too ill to eat.

It is a popular drink in Japan and the Turks like nothing better than a bowl of kale soup.

Kale is sold in many shops in the Northern Territory – it’s the deep green, fluffy-leafed stuff you probably walk past every day and say: “I wonder
what that is?”

It is easy enough to grow your own.

Kale (Brassica oleracea) is what scientists call a cruciferous vegetable.

All cruciferous vegetables are very good for you, but the “kale club” argues that kale is the best of the lot because it is closer to the wild form of cabbage than, say, garden cress.

There is evidence that steamed kale helps lower cholesterol and, like broccoli, reduces the risk of some cancers because it contains sulforaphane.

Boiling lowers the level of sulforaphane, but  steaming, microwaving or stir frying does not result in significant loss.

Kale is also a source of two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, and is high in vitamin K and vitamin C, and calcium.

And, for good measure, it contains indole-3-carbinol, a chemical that boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.

Chefs recommend steaming kale for five minutes.

Final thought: the word kale almost certainly comes from the old Germanic word for cabbage.

Kale super juice

Recipe: Page Lee

Original recipe makes 2 servings


2 green apples, halved

4 stalks celery, leaves removed

1 cucumber

6 leaves kale

½ lemon, peeled

1 (2.5cm) piece fresh ginger


Process green apples, celery, cucumber, kale, lemon and ginger through a juicer. Shake before drinking.

Great healthy drink for detoxing after the holidays or whenever you have overdone it. Adjust fruit and veggie amounts to suit your personal taste. More apple equals a sweeter drink.

Store any extra in a glass jar in the fridge for up to a day.

Grow your own

Kale grows best in cool climates but can survive in the heat.

It is well suited to winter growing in places such as Alice Springs – the cold gives it a sweeter taste.

The dark green veggie can be grown in the Top End, although the heat gives it a bitter taste and tougher texture. But foodies say that doesn’t stop it tasting great in many dishes and drinks.

Growing kale in a pot

The pot or container must have at least 38 square centimetres of space for the kale to grow in.

Plant your seeds or starts
1.5 centimetres apart in the centre
of the pot, which should contain a
good layer of compost.

Growing kale in the garden

If planting in winter in Alice Springs, ensure the kale gets plenty of sun. If planting in the Top End, ensure it is shaded.

Kale is fussy – it does well when planted next to beets, celery and herbs, but doesn’t like tomatoes.

The soil should be well-drained and moist, but not soggy, with soil of average fertility.

Kale does best in soil with a pH of 5.5–6.8.

Seeds sprout best when the soil temperature is about 21 degrees.

The hotter the weather, the more bitter and tough the kale, but even bitter and tough kale is nutritious and can be made into delicious dishes.

Starting your seeds

Sow seeds in small pots filled with a mix of soil and fertiliser/compost. Place the seed at least 1.7 centimetres deep. Keep the soil around the seedling evenly moist throughout its growth, but allow the top layer of soil to dry between watering.

Or you can directly sow seeds in the garden.

Preparing the bed and planting

Before planting, distribute a good amount of fertiliser over the area you will be using and work it into the soil. Depending on the potency of the fertiliser, you may want to fertilise then cover the bed and allow it to weather for one to two weeks before planting.

If you are using seasoned compost to fertilise, you should be able to simply fertilise and then plant the next day. If you’re using a mulch to fertilise, you can simply place it around the plants after they are in the ground.

The recommended space for planting seedlings is 30–37 centimetres apart in rows 45–60 centimetres apart. The space for direct sowing is much closer (if you are direct sowing your kale seeds, plant them 1.7 centimetres deep and about 7.5 centimetres apart and then thin plants to 30 centimetres when they are 10 centimetres tall.)


Keep the plants well watered.

Fertilise along the rows with compost throughout the growing season, every 6–8 weeks.


Kale is usually ready for harvest
70–95 days from seed and 55–75 days from transplanting, depending on the variety you are planting. Check the seed packet for specific times.

You can begin to cut individual leaves off the kale when the plant is approximately 20–25 centimetres, starting with the outside leaves.

If you harvest the entire plant, cut the stock 5 centimetres above the soil and the plant will sprout new leaves in 1–2 weeks.

Harvest kale leaves before they become too old and tough.

You can pick kale regularly and store it in the fridge for up to a week. Keep it lightly moist and place it in a bag, but unsealed, in the crisper bin. TT