Kale: Been there, done that. But wait, not so fast. There’s a wide world of kale out there, and some varieties are surprisingly sweet and tender. Keep this guide to all the types of kale handy so you’ll choose the right variety the next time you make a batch of kale minestrone.
Your Complete Guide to All the Types of Kale (and How to Use Them)
What is kale, exactly?
Kale is a type of cruciferous vegetable in the brassica species, so it’s basically cousins with cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower (to name a few). It’s a hardy plant that can withstand heavy frost and thrives in wintertime, so it’s one of the few green vegetables you’ll see if you’re brave enough to hit the farmers market in sub-zero temperatures.
What are the nutritional benefits of kale?
Lucky for all of us scarfing down kale Caesars, all types of kale are rich in nutrients. According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of raw kale contains approximately 49 calories, four grams of protein, nine grams of carbs, one gram of fat and four grams of fiber. It’s loaded with vitamins A, B6 and C, plus folate, manganese, iron, calcium and magnesium—basically, the poster child of health.
9 Types of Kale to Try
1. Curly Kale
One look at those frilly fronds and it’s pretty obvious why they call this type of kale “curly.” And even though it’s tempting to tear up a few leaves and throw them in your salad, it requires some prep if you want to eat it raw. Its bitter, peppery flavor and thick leaves benefit from citrus or a creamy dressing, but it becomes even more palatable when thrown into soups, stews and stir-fries. Making kale chips? Opt for this variety—the ridges trap plenty of olive oil, seasonings and cheese.
2. Baby Kale
Usually sold prewashed in bags or clamshells, this young leafy green is similar to baby spinach but a tad more peppery. It’s great for weeknight salads because it requires zero prep (three cheers) and isn’t as tough to chew on raw. Plus, it cooks in literally two seconds: Just toss it into a heaping plate of pasta to wilt it.
3. Lacinato Kale (aka Bumpy-leaf Kale, Dinosaur Kale, Tuscan Kale Or Black Kale)
OK, now bring on the raw kale salads and smoothies. Lacinato kale—sometimes labeled as dinosaur or Tuscan kale at the grocery—has flat, rippled leaves and a milder, nuttier flavor than other mature kale varieties. It’s still on the tough side, though, so slice it into thin ribbons and give it a good massage to break down some of the fibers before digging in. (For what it’s worth, it’s our favorite type of kale for both raw and cooked applications.)
4. Red Kale (aka Russian Red Kale)
We’ve seen this heirloom variety popping up all over fancy grocery stores. Its texture is pretty similar to curly kale, only it’s surprisingly sweet, tender and striking in appearance. It’s also a fabulous option for raw recipes, like this kale salad with crispy chickpeas or even kale pesto.
5. Gai Lan (chinese Broccoli)
Fun fact, the crunchy green vegetable commonly known as Chinese broccoli isn’t broccoli, but a type of kale. Also known as gai lan, it has thick stems, flat leaves and a stronger, more bitter flavor than mild broc. It’s common in Chinese, Vietnamese, Burmese and Thai cuisines, and takes well to stir-frying for a crisp-tender texture.
6. Siberian Kale
Remember how we said kale is a winter vegetable? Siberian kale takes it to a new level. This especially hardy varietal is a popular winter crop in the southern U.S., with big, thick leaves that can put up with frigid weather. It also tastes best when cooked with acidic and fatty ingredients to offset its bitter flavor and fibrous texture. (How does a warm bacon vinaigrette sound?)
7. Redbor Kale
If, for some reason, you’ve ever dreamed of walking through a kale forest…well, you (kinda) can. Redbor kale can grow up to three feet tall and develops vibrant magenta leaves when fully mature—it’s pretty enough to be ornamental, but it’s also totally edible. It tastes mild and has a crisp texture (similar to cabbage), so it works well in raw salads. When cooked, it develops a nutty, earthy and slightly sweet flavor.
8. Kale Sprouts (aka Kalettes, Lollipops Or Flower Sprouts)
OK, kalette isn’t *technically* a type of kale. It’s a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts, and damn, it’s adorable. Kale sprouts (the generic name; kalette is one of a few brand names) look like tiny heads of kale about two inches in diameter. They have a kale-like texture and sprout-like flavor, can be eaten raw or cooked and while you won’t find them in every grocery store, if you see ’em, grab ’em.
Try it: Crunchy Kalette Salad
9. Ornamental Kale (aka Salad Savoy)
You won’t see this frilly, colorful (white, green, or magenta) type of kale in the produce aisle, but maybe your neighbor has it planted in their flower beds, or your wedding caterer used it to dress up the edges of veggie platters. Take a leaf out of their book and head to your local garden store before your next dinner party. One Pinterest-worthy tablescape, coming right up.