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Kale: An Unbeatable Vegetable

Kale is an incredibly healthy and highly alkaline vegetable. It provides a lot of calcium, iron, vitamin K and vitamin C plus a lot of antioxidant plant substances. Its high-quality protein also ensures that it is repeatedly recommended as an alternative to animal protein. Medical studies also show what people in ancient times already knew: kale is a healing food! Our delicious kale recipes show how tasty kale can be prepared.

Kale: The basic source of iron and protein

Kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica) – also known as collards, spring cabbage, or winter cabbage – is a superlative vegetable. Kale is one of the most alkaline foods and also one of the healthiest winter vegetables. The reason for this is its nutrient density paired with high levels of vital substances. It provides an enormous amount of protein for a vegetable, namely around 4 grams per 100 grams. At the same time, it is an excellent source of calcium (200 mg/100 g), and its iron content is also very impressive at 2 mg per 100 grams.

True to tradition, the winter cabbage is prepared heartily with clarified butter and bacon and then served with sausages, Kassler, or similar. To do this, it is often cooked for up to 1.5 hours, which of course does not do its valuable ingredients any good.

In modern times, kale is therefore increasingly found in raw food dishes, such as in the popular green smoothies. It is also served as a salad or gently steamed vegetables.

For in between there are crispy kale chips of raw food quality. Only in this way can the superfood kale give us everything it contains. Above all, its secondary plant substances and antioxidants are considered natural protective shields against various diseases and are extremely heat-sensitive.

The kale in history

Like all other cabbage varieties, kale is a cruciferous plant derived from wild cabbage. According to sources, the so-called green cabbage, the forerunner of today’s kale, was cultivated in the Mediterranean region as early as the 3rd century BC. Cultivated and used primarily as a medicinal plant. In ancient Egypt, cabbage was even used to treat 83 diseases.

Of course, the ancient Greeks also used it, e.g. B. to alleviate the physical consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. Doctor Hippocrates, on the other hand, recommended a broth made from kale leaves for stomach problems, diarrhea, coughs, and hoarseness.

And the Roman statesman Cato the Elder noted in his book on medicinal plants that a single crushed cabbage leaf could help beat breast cancer. In ancient Rome, the so-called “Sabellian cabbage” was so valued that it could help kale farmers to prosper.

According to herbal books, kale had its fixed place on the menu in Germany by the 16th century at the latest and was already one of the most popular vegetables in many places. Whether it’s collards, collards, spring cabbage, winter cabbage, or Friesian palms: there is hardly any other vegetable that has been given so many regionally typical names over the course of history.

Kale: The superfood of cabbage

The term superfood is used more and more often when it comes to anything but a superfood. However, kale is actually a real superfood.

Although there is no official definition for the term superfood, it generally refers to natural, i.e. unprocessed foods that are particularly rich in nutrients (this can also just be a nutrient or vital substance that is contained in particularly large quantities) and have an above-average positive effect affect health.

Kale is one such food because its nutritional profile surpasses that of many other vegetables and even most other brassicas. For example, winter cabbage contains three times as much protein and four times as much iron as white cabbage.

The nutritional values, vitamins, and minerals

Fresh winter cabbage consists of around 85 percent water and is very low in calories. It also contains many vitamins and minerals.

Kale provides high-quality protein

The amino acid profile of kale is extremely high quality and comparable to that of meat and co. Only the levels of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine ​​are a bit low, but this is not a problem since many other foods contain them to excess, for example in all types of cereal products.

In return, the tryptophan content is relatively high. This amino acid is required for the production of serotonin in the brain and ensures the best mood and mental balance.

Vegetables with omega-3 fatty acids

It is atypical that vegetables contain relevant amounts of fat. Neither does the kale. With only 1 gram, it is of course considered to be low in fat. However, that one gram contains 130 mg of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid with numerous health benefits. As we explained here (meeting omega-3 fatty acid requirements vegan), the minimum requirement for ALA is 1200 mg per day. This means that 100 grams of vegetables cover 10 percent of the requirement – and that without having eaten the smallest bit of fat.

ALA is known for its anti-inflammatory effects and for its protective effect on the cardiovascular system and on nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

Dietary fiber promotes digestion

Even in research circles, it is now considered undisputed that the dietary fiber from cabbage vegetables such as kale has an extremely positive effect on digestion and that these various diseases such as e.g. B. can prevent colon cancer or diabetes.

Since the Frisian palm not only contains large amounts of fiber (almost as much as oat flakes), but also has a high fiber quality, it can achieve wide-ranging medical effectiveness with this group of substances alone.

Because fiber:

  • promote digestion
  • regulate cholesterol levels
  • accelerate the intestinal passage and thus relieve constipation
  • inhibit food cravings
  • promote the feeling of satiety
  • help with weight loss
  • contribute to a healthy intestinal flora
  • support detoxification (removal of toxic substances with the stool)

Kale: A top source of calcium

With its high calcium content, kale is almost at the top of the calcium-rich vegetables and is only surpassed by nettles (and other wild vegetables). This makes it the most calcium-rich cultivated vegetable in our latitudes.

The bioavailability of calcium in kale is also very high because it is one of the low-oxalic acid vegetables with less than 10 mg of oxalic acid per 100 g. Winter cabbage is therefore an excellent source of calcium.

The secondary plant substances

The most important phytochemicals include the antioxidant flavonoids, the carotenoids, and the anti-cancer mustard oil glycosides – and they can all be found in kale!

Flavonoids in kale

Cabbage rich in vitamins and minerals, such as kale, also contains a lot of secondary plant substances. Scientists estimate the flavonoids it contains to be at least 45. These include the excellent radical scavenger called quercetin.

Flavonoids, for example, have anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, and blood pressure-lowering effects. A 2017 Chinese study at Wuhan University has confirmed that flavonoids reduce the risk of mortality, e.g. B. by cardiovascular diseases.

Mustard oil glycosides in kale

In addition, kale contains mustard oil glycosides (also glucosinolates), which are partly responsible for the typical taste. These are chemical compounds containing sulfur and nitrogen that are formed from amino acids.

Mustard oil glycosides are converted to antimicrobial and anticancer isothiocyanates (so-called mustard oils) when the vegetables are chewed or cut up and also during the digestion process. The conversion takes place with the help of the enzyme myrosinase. However, this is sensitive to heat, so the anti-cancer effect of cooked kale is no longer as high.

Carotenoids in kale

Carotenoids also have an anti-inflammatory effect and reduce the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases. With around 5,200 micrograms per 100 grams, there is even more beta-carotene in kale than in broccoli (850 micrograms) and Brussels sprouts (470 micrograms). If you eat a small portion of fat along with the kale, e.g. B. olive oil, your body can absorb the beta-carotene more easily. However, even more, important for a high beta-carotene intake is that the kale is shredded well – for example, as is the case in a green smoothie.

Cabbage also contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are particularly good for the eyes and therefore counteract age-related eye diseases.

Kale is also a wonderful example of how green vegetables can hide even more of the yellow and orange carotenoids than yellow and orange fruits and vegetables such as peas. B. in carrots. This is because the carotenoids contained in green vegetables are overshadowed by the lush green chlorophyll (leaf green).

Kale: Chlorophyll – the basis of life

The Frisian palm even contains more chlorophyll than nettle or broccoli, for example. Indian researchers from the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute found in their study that chlorophyll in particular has an anti-inflammatory effect. They indicated that leafy greens have great potential for treating related diseases.

For example, it has already been shown that chlorophyll is able to prevent dementia, protect against diabetes, improve muscle growth, eliminate heavy metals through the intestines and

Kale: The vegetable against cancer

Kale provides both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances. The combination of these two groups of substances can very well reduce the risk of cancer.

The carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene as well as flavonoids are among the anti-cancer antioxidants in kale. They protect the body from oxidative stress. According to clinical studies, these antioxidants are particularly effective against breast, colon, bladder, prostate, and ovarian cancer when kale is consumed regularly.

The phytoestrogen kaempferol and the plant pigment quercetin have emerged from among the flavonoids with the greatest antioxidant potential that have been investigated to date. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that the other 45 or so proven flavonoids also make they contribute to cancer prevention.

Kale contains 10 times more anti-cancer compounds than broccoli

Kale provides at least five types of mustard oil glycosides. This also includes the substance glucobrassicin, the toxins such. B. estrogen derivatives in the body are neutralized and are intended in particular to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Due to their detoxifying properties, according to the latest studies, mustard oils not only have a preventive effect but can also be used therapeutically against cancer.

A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Oldenburg and Jacobs University Bremen found that kale is significantly better at preventing cancer than broccoli and other cabbage varieties. So far, reducing the risk of colon cancer was considered the best vegetable for cancer prophylaxis. However, scientists have now revealed that some types of kale contain ten times more cancer-preventing substances.

The analysis of 40 varieties of kale from the USA, Germany, and Italy showed that the North German kale varieties Rote Palme, Frostara, and Neuefehn have the highest content of mustard oil glycosides.

Kale instead of meat

In view of CO2 emissions and a lack of resources, the meat industry has been criticized as one of the ten main causes of climate change. Environmental activists like Prof. Michael Pollan, whose book The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Das Dilemma des Omnivores) caused a sensation internationally, therefore urge a plant-based or at least meat-reduced diet, which would also counteract many diet-related diseases.

With just a small deviation from the Western diet, we could reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes by 90 percent, coronary artery disease by 80 percent, and colorectal cancer by 70 percent, Pollan said.

It is not only official nutritional guidelines that give preference to fruit and vegetables over animal products. With its high nutrient density, its high-quality protein, and its diversity, kale in particular can not only contribute very well to a balanced plant-based diet, but at the same time, thanks to its healing substances, it can protect against diseases or help to overcome them – what you can expect from meat and other animal products can’t exactly say.

Kale doesn’t need frost!

Although it can be bought in different varieties all year round, kale is a classic winter vegetable and should – in the seasonal and regional health food kitchen – only be bought if it comes from the region.

Of course, you can also freeze the winter cabbage and enjoy it all year round if you like. It is usually advised to blanch it beforehand because it tastes better then. That’s true, of course, but it’s the antioxidant substances that make kale taste a bit bitter.

If the winter cabbage is always prepared in such a way that it no longer tastes a bit tart or bitter, then of course it is also less healthy. You can also freeze raw kale for green smoothies and other raw preparations. If you want to freeze it for cooked food, then blanch it for 1 to 2 minutes.

It is also often said that the cabbage tastes better if it is harvested after the first frost. But that is only partially true. It only tastes better when the first frost arrives late in the year. Because it’s less about the cold that makes it taste better, but about the long maturing period.

The later it is harvested and the longer it is allowed to stay in the field, the more starch can be converted into sugar, resulting in a less tart taste. Whether frost comes during this time or not, the starch transformation does not matter. However, since this only takes place in daylight (with the help of photosynthesis), there is no use putting the kale in the freezer to imitate frost to supposedly improve the taste – as is often done.

Still, the cold has one advantage, two in fact. First, kale becomes more tender, and second, according to various studies, its flavonoid content increases when temperatures drop.

Buy kale: only organic, please

Since, according to Greenpeace, the Lower Saxony Consumer Center, and the Bremen Consumer Center, vegetables are often contaminated with pesticide residues, you should definitely choose organic goods. Also, when you buy them, make sure that the curly kale leaves are a rich green color, look crisp and fresh, and don’t have any yellow-brown edges.

Kale with withered, dry leaf tips has already left its best days behind, which of course also has a negative effect on the medicinal ingredients. It should therefore not be stored in the refrigerator for longer than 4 to 5 days.

Preparing the kale is child’s play. If there are wilted leaves, remove them. Then wash the remaining kale leaves thoroughly in cold water several times. In this way, all remnants of sand and earth are removed. Then drain the kale well, remove the hard stems and cut the leaves with a large knife, e.g. B. in narrow strips.

The kale in traditional cooking

In northern Europe, kale has cult status. Whether in northern Germany, the Netherlands, or Scandinavia: the so-called kale meal is celebrated here every year. There will be celebrations, cabbage kings will be chosen and of course, hearty food will be served.

In northern Germany, for example in the area around Bremen and Oldenburg and in Frisian communities, the dish “kale and Pinkel” should not be missing from a traditional meal of kale. The Pinkel is a smoked grützwurst that is used e.g. made from grits, bacon, lard and spices. The Pinkel sausages are twisted off in portions, joined together by the dozen, and then smoked and dried.

But that’s not all! Because the kale and Pinkel are not only served with boiled potatoes, but also boiled sausage, Mettenden, and Kassler. In the face of all the lust for the flesh, even the Krauskohl gets pretty scared. Because it can do much more than accompany boiled sausage, lard, grützwurst and smoked Mettenden on the plate.

Traditional events like the kale meal may have their raison d’être. They rarely happen and the heart of many people simply hangs on them. From a health point of view, however, it would be fatal to eat vitamin-rich types of cabbage such as kale only in combination with sausage products.

The kale from salad to stewed vegetables

Krausskohl is extremely versatile in the modern kitchen. You can mix the raw leaves with fruit to make a smoothie rich in vital substances. It can also be used to prepare a finely chopped salad with a dressing of olive oil, lemon, and Italian herbs.

As a cooked vegetable, kale tastes good steamed, blanched, boiled, or braised. For example, you can prepare a delicious kale soup, a hearty vegetable stew, or simply conjure up the kale as the main character and spicy boiled potatoes on the table.

The preparation

Now we have heard a lot about all kinds of kale dishes. But what do you actually have to consider when preparing them? As already explained, the cabbage leaves are plucked from the leaf veins and washed thoroughly. Then drain the kale in a colander. Calculate about 200 g of fresh green cabbage per person.

As a result, the cabbage can be cooked if desired. Some examples follow:

  • Blanch the kale in batches in boiling salted water for 2 to 3 minutes. After blanching, you should quench the cabbage in cold water, let it drain in a sieve, and shape it into the desired shape. You can chop it roughly or finely.
  • Braising: Due to its wholesomeness, it is common practice in many kitchens to blanch kale before braising it. Don’t forget to be scared. Then heat the oil in a saucepan and add the chopped onions and the kale. After briefly steaming, the vegetables are poured with boiling broth and simmer with the lid closed. The total cooking time is 2 hours. About 45 minutes before the stew is ready, you can add vegetables such as carrots and zucchini – apart from grützwurst and the like.
  • Steaming: Briefly blanch the plucked and washed cabbage leaves and sauté them in a pan with a little oil and chopped onion. The kale will collapse, release its own liquid, and then cook in its own juice. But make sure it doesn’t burn. If necessary, deglaze the whole thing with a dash of vegetable broth. Always steam the cabbage covered. The cooking time is about 10 minutes.

Cook the kale gently and season to taste

In any case, the more gently the vitamin-rich kale is prepared, the greater the benefit of its ingredients. Spicy ingredients such as onions, garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil ensure a special taste experience. Almost all side dishes go well with kale – whether potatoes, rice, polenta, couscous, or pasta. In any case, you will bring color to your plate and concentrated defenses to your body!

Kale can be reheated if…

It is often heard or read that you should never reheat the kale. But that’s a myth. However, it is important that you keep a few things in mind when it comes to warming up. You should cool the leftover kale quickly and store it in a sealable container in the refrigerator for not too long – around 3 days.

Otherwise, bacteria convert the nitrate contained in kale into nitrite. To be on the safe side, you should not serve heated vegetables rich in nitrates to children. In any case, warming up the kale does not harm young people or adults.

Kale in powder and capsule form

For everyone who would like to enjoy winter cabbage every day without having to prepare it in the kitchen every time, there is a kale extract that is produced in a way that preserves vital substances. It’s great for making green smoothies or adding them to soups, dips, and dressings.

In addition, there is a kale extract available that contains the active ingredients of kale in an even more concentrated and therefore higher dose. It is taken in capsule form as a dietary supplement and in this form can also be a component of holistic therapies for almost all chronic diseases.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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