Kale, everyone’s talking about it. If you’re just starting out on a journey of healthier eating, you have undoubtedly found articles touting the power of kale as a superfood. Many health recipes include kale for its nutritious-ness. Yes, kale has come a long way to the untouchable dinner plate garnish. But what does kale taste like exactly? Is it as horribly bitter as some people claim? Or are there sweeter, crunchier varieties?
What is Kale?
Chefs, fitness professionals, nutritional gurus, and even your next door neighbor won’t stop talking about the frilly-leafed green known as kale. Kale is a part of the cabbage family and has strong, thick leaves and long stems. There are a couple varieties of kale, though, and you can find many of them at the local grocery store.
Varieties of Kale
There are two kinds of kale: Brassica napus and Brassica oleracea. The first is the variety you see often—Red Russian kale and Siberian kale. These two have curled or frilled leaves. The latter, Brassica oleracea, have smooth leaves and include Dinosaur kale and Lacinto kale.
Mature kale can be intimidating to children and those who dislike vegetables, because it has thick, dense stems and ribbing. Kale looks like the very definition of rabbit food.
Good news! You don’t eat the stems. They are too fibrous and tasteless, and most chefs promptly remove them. Use only the leaves in your cooking for the best results.
Does Kale Taste Like Spinach?
No, kale does not taste like spinach, as you will find out if you nibble on both raw kale and spinach leaves. For comparison purposes, raw spinach is said to be mild, herb-like, slightly sweet, and grassy. Baby spinach is sweeter, while bigger, heartier leaves can be more grassy. When cooked, spinach gets a bit of a tang to it that pairs well with garlic.
Is Kale Sweet or Bitter?
Depending on the age of the kale, it can be sweet, it can be bland, or it can be bitter. Kale generally has a strong taste, one that is emphasized by crunchy, tough leaves. It’s an earthy flavor that doesn’t have the herb-like quality of spinach or the zest of arugula. Younger kale leaves are thin and mild.
If you want to use mature kale in a salad, consider blending it with other leafy greens. Sweeter lettuces will complement the bitterness of the kale. Baby kale, on the other hand, can stand alone in a salad.
Which Variety of Kale is the Sweetest?
Did you know that kale grows in the frost? It’s true. Red Russian kale is grown in cool temperatures. It is also the sweetest variety of kale. Be aware, however, that the more mature version of Red Russian kale (also known as Ragged Jack) will be extremely bitter.
Looking for something more mild? Dinosaur kale, also known as Tuscan kale or Lacinto kale, has the same earthiness, but it is accompanied by a nutty flavor. Dino kale is a bit more approachable than other kinds of kale, because it is not as bitter. Use it as you would any kind of kale.
What Does Cooked Kale Taste Like?
Kale can be cooked a number of ways, each one resulting in a different taste. Seasoned kale tends to taste better than unseasoned kale. Without any salt, pepper, or other spices, kale tastes much like it would raw, though the bitterness won’t be as strong. You might enjoy cooked kale as an addition to soups, salads, and sautes with other ingredients to balance out acidic, sour, and sweet notes.
Some examples of good kale pairings include:
- Sausage and kale
- Spinach and kale
- Romaine lettuce and kale
- Quinoa and kale
- Black beans and kale
- Hummus and kale
- White beans and kale
- Chicken and kale
What Does Caramelized Kale Taste Like?
Caramelizing is a process where you cook foods with natural sugars so that those ingredients brown and gain a nutty flavor. The most common food that cooks love to caramelize would be onions. Although kale itself would be difficult to caramelize, you can pair it with onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, and peppers.
Melt some butter or olive oil (or both) in a skillet and add some onion (or any other option) and let the ingredients cook on low heat for about 45-60 minutes. Stir occasionally.
After that, add some salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of water, and your shredded kale. Cover the pan for about 5 minutes, letting the kale wilt. It will mix with the flavors of the caramelized ingredients, too.
You can serve your caramelized onions and kale with chicken, on flatbread, mixed into pasta, or just eat it as is. It’s delicious.
What Does a Kale Smoothie Taste Like?
One of the easiest ways to add kale to your diet without having to taste it is to add it to a smoothie. For breakfast, a midday snack, or after your workout, smoothies are a quick and easy way to nourish your body. Why not add an extra shot of vitamin K with kale?
Here is a quick and delicious recipe to try:
- 1 cup kale, fresh
- 1 cup cubed mango
- ½ cup pineapple
- 1 cup coconut milk or almond milk
- 1 scoop of protein powder (optional)
Place the kale and milk into the blender first and blend until smooth. Add in the mango, pineapple, and optional protein powder. Blend again.
If you want to make this more frozen, you can either add some ice cubes to the mixture when blending or you can serve it over ice.
Optionally, you can make a smoothie bowl with kale. Check out this video:
And how will your kale smoothie taste, you ask? Definitely not like kale! When mixed with other ingredients or juiced, the bitterness of kale is nonexistent. You might hit a grassy note here and there, but you won’t be puckering your lips either.
What Does Sauteed Kale Taste Like?
When you cook kale, it becomes less bitter and more buttery. Sauteing kale is no different. Combined with vegetable stock, garlic, olive oil, and some red wine vinegar, kale takes on characteristics of both escarole and spinach. The salt will draw out some sweetness, while the garlic gives a little kick.
Here’s a quick sauteed kale recipe to try:
- Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a saucepan and start heating it on medium-high.
- Add garlic, cooking until soft but not browned.
- Raise the heat to high and add ½ cup vegetable stock and 1.5 lbs of kale.
- Place a lid over the saucepan and cook on high for 5 minutes.
- Remove the cover and stir the kale until all moisture has evaporated.
- Season your kale with a little salt, pepper, vinegar (or optional butter) to taste. Serve and enjoy!
What About Kale Chips?
Without seasoning, baked kale chips taste exactly like they did when raw—bitter. The baking process will lend the chips a toasted quality that rounds out the bitterness, but it will still be strong. If you’re expecting something crunchy and delicious though, you might be horribly disappointed. It’s important that you flavor your kale chips to dull some of the overwhelming bitterness of the leaves.
Cheese, tomato powder, onion powder, and garlic are common seasonings. Soy roasted and lemon garlic can be used for a heartier flavoring. You can also find varieties that are coated in maple syrup or dusted with coconut, chocolate, or similarly sweet toppings.
What Does Bad Kale Taste Like?
Want to know if you have accidentally chomped on some bad kale? The first way you would know that kale has gone bad is if the leaves are wilted and have low moisture. They might have started to feel tough. The ends of the leaves will no longer be green but yellowish or brown.
If a bag of kale starts going bad, you will notice some liquid at the bottom of the bag or container.
Lastly, that earthy scent and flavor often associated with kale has transformed into the noxious sulfurous fumes of rotten eggs. If your kale salad smells like that, throw it away immediately!
So what does kale taste like? It depends. According to differing opinions, kale can taste like a lot of things, but most will agree that baby kale is slightly sweet and zesty, whereas older kale can be bitter and tough. By softening up (or making the leaves crunchy), you can draw out more deliciousness than when eating it raw. Or add kale to smoothies, soups, and sauces, where you will hardly taste it at all!
There is no correct answer to this. The best way to eat kale is the way that works for you! Kale can be used a number of ways in all kinds of recipes, from soups, sauces, snacks, and more. You can sauté, pan-fry, braise, blend, or eat kale raw. For those who dislike kale but want the nutritional benefits, you can forget about it entirely and put it in a smoothie.