Kale has been eaten for thousands of years and was used to feed humans and animals in the Middle Ages. Originally derived from wild cabbage, most types of kale come from Europe and parts of Asia.
Kale can withstand frost and cold climates and often symbolizes the coming winter season. Kale is traditionally so popular in Scotland that the vegetable gardens there are referred to as "kale yards" and a common dinner is known as "kail". Germans still celebrate the arrival of winter with a dish of kale called grunkohl. Thomas Jefferson is believed to have grown it in Monticello, and recent food critics have touted it as a superfood. One cup of kale contains 80 milligrams of vitamin C, which is almost the full amount recommended for daily consumption. There is even a National Kale Day on the first Wednesday in October!
Which types of kale taste best? Have you ever wondered about the difference between kale and kale and whether it matters? There are dozens of different types of kale, from ruffles and reds to textured and dark green dinosaur skin. Read on if you want to learn more about the most popular varieties of these leafy vegetables and their best uses in your kitchen!
If you're looking for more detailed information on kale care, check out articles on growing kale plants and kale as a microgreen. And if you're just looking for information on how to harvest your kale, we have it too!
Curled Leaf Kales
Crinkly Leaf Kales are often considered a classic type of cabbage in the store. They start out as cute and frilly seedlings. When kale seedlings first sprout, they are small and look like most other seedlings. Once they grow their true leaves, you will begin to see their signature curled leaves.
As they get bigger, they form a large and hard stem on each leaf. Plants grown from seeds can mature for 50 to 75 days. When inspecting your kale for caterpillars and common pests, enjoy the development as it grows from tiny kale to large frilled leaves.
Many plants can reach 1 to 2 feet tall, although they are usually of a broader habit. They can get very big. So keep this in mind when planting your kale in the garden.
Kale has distinctly wavy leaves in shades of green. Source: Washington State Department of Agriculture
Kale is one of the most common types of kale you'll see in the grocery store. It is a green variety with large, curled leaves. A popular variety is "Winterbor", which is hardy and can grow to 2 to 3 feet tall.
This is a great type of kale for salads or soups. Be sure to massage the leaves with olive oil when using it in a salad to soften their texture and make them easier to eat. Kale can be removed from the hard stem by tearing off pieces of leaf.
Redbor kale has a deep, reddish-purple hue. Source: tracie7779
Redbor is a kale that can have deep burgundy to purple leaves. It may start out as a flatter leaf, but the color, flavor, and curl of the leaves are enhanced by cold weather. It's a sturdy plant that can grow up to 5 feet tall! Redbor kale is a hybrid.
Redbor has a mild, cabbage-like taste. It's a purple kale that looks pretty when cooked, although it loses some of its color when cooked. Use it in green salads for a pop of color!
Kale has a blue-green tinge to its curly leaves. Source: WinstonWong
The most popular variety is “Blue Curled Scotch” cabbage, also known as “Vates” cabbage. This variety has blue-green leaves that are very curly. It tends to be a shorter variety that grows to be less than 2 feet tall. It produces early but is biennial and can survive two growing seasons.
Kale works well in salads or stir-fries. It has a pleasantly sweet and nutty taste and makes great fries.
Flat leaf cabbage
Flat kale is different from kale and is much easier to chop, making it the best choice for salads or to add to soups and stews. The most popular type is lacinato kale, which has many names, such as dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, or Italian kale.
As they get bigger, the kale has a more upright habit and can grow larger than the curly varieties, which tend to spread out. The leaves are erect and straight and grow on a main stem. Siberian kale, which is actually more closely related to the rapeseed plant, is one of the flat leaf varieties.
Red Russian kale
Red Russian kale has deep red-purple stems. Source: jdavis
Red Russian kale is valued for its sweetness, also known as a baby cabbage leaf. Red Russian leaves have a pronounced frill structure with reddish stems as they grow larger and up to 2 to 3 feet tall. Red cabbage produces an early harvest. There are many types of heirloom red cabbage. Popular varieties are "Red Ursa," a screw-resistant variety, and "Winter Red," a variety with red and purple veins that turn green when cooked.
The leaves of the Red Russian kale are tender and retain their sweet and slightly peppery taste even when ripe. They are great for adding a sweet and subtle taste to salads, or even for nibbling. Many gardeners grow them to eat the tender young greens.
Lacinato kale has dark green, long, flat leaves. Source: Williumbillium
Lacinato kale, also known as Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale, is one of the most visually distinctive types of kale. It has tall, slender, bluish-dark green leaves and grows erect, often reaching several feet high. The texture of the leaves is bumpy and looks almost like reptile skin, hence the name dinosaur cabbage. "Nero di Toscana" is an heirloom variety from Tuscany.
Lacinato kale is great for raw vegetables because it has a milder, nutty taste. It's also incredibly easy to de-stem. Just slide your fingers over the stem and tear the leaves off as you go. It also makes great kale chips when tossed with olive oil.
Siberian kale has wide, flat leaves and slender stems. Source: Tiny Banquet Committee
Siberian kale is actually more closely related to families that include turnip and rutabaga than to other types of kale. It is hardy and has flat, broad leaves that grow close to the ground. Unlike the other members of the Brassica oleracea family, Siberian kale is actually Brassica napus. It is a hybrid that was likely created by cross-pollination with wild plants. While other types of kale are stemmed and grow upright, this plant grows in a low cluster, which makes it tolerate much colder temperatures.
This type of kale has leaves that are more tender than other types of kale. It has a bland taste that isn't associated with kale, which tends to be bitter. Frost can make the leaves taste even sweeter. It also has a cabbage-like taste, so replace it in any recipes that might call for cabbage. Siberian kale is best used in salads as a delicate leafy green.
Other types of kale
Aside from flat leaf and kale, there are a few other plants that are technically kale, but so different that they are usually not considered kale. Let's take a look at the most common of these species and see why they're a little different, but how they can still be delicious and useful in your garden!
Chinese kale has large, rounded flat leaves. Source: b. inxee
Chinese kale or Brassica oleracea belongs to the alboglabra group. It is also called Chinese broccoli. Chinese broccoli is a great way to think about this plant's growing habits. It has a hearty main stem with leaves that can be smooth or wrinkled, just like broccoli. It has round green leaves and doesn't get as big as the more popular types of kale. Chinese kale is a heat-resistant plant, so it can be grown year-round in warmer climates.
The flowering stems, buds, and young leaves of Chinese broccoli are best for cooking. Similar to traditional broccoli, the stem of this plant can become tough and too fibrous to eat. The leaves, buds, and flowers can be steamed or fried like any other type of green kale.
Salad savoy cabbage is an unusual mix of kale and other types of cabbage like cabbage. Source: Suzie's Farm
Savoy cabbage is a type of cabbage from the Brassica family. Salad Savoy is a cross between kale and other brassicas like cabbage and cauliflower. It belongs to the savoy family and is full name Brassica oleracea var. Sabauda. It grows in a dense head and, as a result of crossing, is multicolored with pink and red or white leaves, as well as green leaves. The leaves of Savoy sit in a pile right on the ground and it looks similar to cabbage.
Savoy cabbage is mild and earthy, and salad savoy cabbage was bred to have a mild, mild flavor that can be used in almost any type of cooking! Look for it in your grocery store as it was specially bred for this purpose and is hard to find as a seed. Enjoy this leafy green in salads, wraps or soups. It can also be steamed or fried.
Portuguese kale is sometimes called sea kale. Source: R ~ P ~ M.
Portuguese kale is a rare variety of kale that is a key ingredient in the popular Portuguese dish, caldo verde. This is a unique plant that changes rapidly as it grows: at first it forms large outer leaves, similar to collards, but as it grows the leaves curl like cabbage towards the center of the plant. It grows in a bundle head and, like the other unique varieties of kale, does not grow large. It's heat-resistant and has huge, paddle-shaped leaves. A popular variety is "Tronchuda Beira".
This plant is sweet and tender with a mild, rich taste. The leaves can easily be separated from the thick stem. It is popular in stews and soups such as the Portuguese Caldo Verde or the Caldo Gallego from the Spanish region of Galicia. It grows strong and just a few leaves are enough to fill your soup!
So there you have it: there are dozen different types of kale. This leafy green contains more vitamin C than most other vegetables and is incredibly hardy. Many varieties are sweetened by frost, while others were bred for variegated or curly leaves. Kale also includes a large family of plants, including some that are not traditionally considered kale!
About the writer Rebecca Hendricks:
Hello, my name is Rebecca! I grew up with plants that are loving, but they haven't always loved me. My grandparents and great-grandmother always let me help out in their gardens from a young age, but I couldn't figure out the gardening all by myself.
For a year I decided to do some research to find out how to grow peppers on my balcony and it worked! I realized that gardening is a skill to be learned, not an innate talent to be born with.
I am a volunteer master gardener in Florida and am just in my sophomore year flipping my entire lawn yard (front and back) to a mix of native, pollinator, and wildlife friendly spots, a food forest, and raised beds. I raise Coturnix quails and one day I would like to add chickens to my flock.
I love to share my gardening knowledge with others and am always happy to help!
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