Mention kale and the first image that pops into one's mind isn't associated with consumption.
“With my foodservice background, I always think of kale as garnish,” said Amy McLeod, the dietitian at Brookshire Brothers, Lufkin, Texas. “I've used it so much to decorate salad bars and garnish potato salads. It not usually something that people think to eat.”
Yet, kale is an underappreciated superfood. With more beta carotene than both carrots and sweet potatoes, and loaded with vitamins A and C, as well as fiber, folate, iron and magnesium, kale should be at the top of any list of foods to eat. Wellness websites tout kale's nutritional punch: a single cup of the cooked greens packs more than 1,300% of the daily value for vitamin K and almost a whole day's supply of calcium. Recipes are easier to come by, including one that takes advantage of kale's leathery texture.
“Among my friends and colleagues, I'm seeing some experimentation, such as crispy kale, as a chip substitute,” noted Karen Buch, the dietitian for Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa. “She dries pieces of it in the oven and sprinkles it with sea salt.”
Incorporating kale into regular meals is a bit more difficult. The vegetable's notoriety for being fibrous and extra chewy has kept interest from growing beyond core wellness consumers and the occasional adventurous palate.
“I've seen more of it in our stores,” noted Buch. “I think the interest is probably there, but not to the point where we're seeing a tremendous number of customers calling me and saying, ‘Hey, let's talk about kale.’”
Buch and her retail colleagues throughout the industry are poised to discuss kale's many benefits, but until then they're sticking with more familiar options.
“We tend right now to focus a little more on spinach,” she said. “There's a lot more consumer acceptance with it, so if we're working on recipe development, we're likely to turn to spinach first. It's easier to eat right away. Kale needs a little more time and attention.”
McLeod agreed, saying Brookshire shoppers have definite preferences if given a choice.
“Spinach and other kinds of greens like collard or mustard are more popular in this area of east Texas,” she said.
Help may soon be on the way. Major packers, such as Earthbound Farm, are keen on the kale trend. The organic produce processor is introducing clamshell packs of certified organic mixed baby kales, a blend of three varieties tender enough to toss straight into a salad. The company says the flavorful leaves are impossible to mistake for garnish.