Kale was one vegetable that many people ignored for a long time, but now different types of kale are experiencing a huge popularity spike. However, many people don’t realize that there are many different types of kale available on the current market, and some may suit your tastes better than the current one you’re eating.
Kale is very versatile, and it’s a nice addition to virtually any garden. You can easily turn it into a beneficial ingredient for a huge range of dishes, and it also contains a huge amount of nutrients. This is a cold-hardy plant that can easily survive well into the winter months in many USDA growing zones.
The different types of kale plants also vary in shape and size, and they come in a range of colors from red and white to yellow or violet green and the classic deep green. If you are curious as to what types of kale you can grow or buy and how to use them, read on.
Kale is a very nutritious vegetable that many people like to add to their salads, soups, or even smoothies for a nutrient boost. Kale by rocor / CC BY-NC 2.0
Defining Types of Kale
Kale is in the cruciferous family, and this is the same family that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and collard greens. A lot of people mistakenly think that it’s also in the same family as lettuce, but it’s a much harder vegetable. Even though kale saw a very steep rise to popularity, there are several good reasons behind it. It’s packed with nutrients, minerals, and vitamins, and a few big things are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
Along with having all of these nutrients, different types of kale are also low in calories, have five grams of fiber, and have no fat in every one cup serving. These are more than enough reasons for people to consider adding it to their diets in as many ways possible.
Biggest Reasons to Grow Types of Kale in Your Garden
If you’ve never grown kale in your garden, you may wonder if it’s worth it to add it in. We’ve touched on how healthy different types of kale are for you, but there are more reasons than that to consider giving it a spot. A few include:
- You can grow your kale close together and harvest any of the smaller leaves for use in salads. Once you do, you can continue allowing the plants to grow to full size.
- Kale plants do wonderfully in container gardens, so you don’t have to have a huge plot in your yard to grow them. They even do well on your balcony or patio.
- Most types of kale are snow and frost hardy. You can easily grow this vegetable across many USDA hardiness zones into the fall or early winter months without putting in a frost cover. If you live in an area that doesn’t get frost or freezing temperatures, it’s easy to grow kale all year-round.
- It’s possible to harvest kale at all growing stages, including the baby green stage to add to your salads.
- It’s possible to overwinter kale to grow leafy greens very early in the season.
There are many reasons why people want to grow kale in their gardens. It’s very low-maintenance and easy to grow, and you can find ornamental varieties. Kale by Ceridwen / CC BY-NC 2.0
Kale is an edible, loose-leafed plant that has an ancient history. It’s a member of the Brassica family, and this family also includes a host of other cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Kale’s origins are over 2,000 years old as it was one of the most widely eaten green vegetables in the middle ages. It acted like an important staple in many people’s diets, and it was one vegetable that was very easy to grow while being highly resistant to colder temperatures.
If you look at France, there’s a huge debate on when or how often the French ate it. This vegetable falls into the lost and forgotten or légume oublié vegetable category. When you compare it to parsnips or turnips, kale fell to the wayside in popularity and many farmers didn’t know how to grow it.
For a period between WWI and WWII, kale was forgotten even more. This popularity decline made it one vegetable that most people either love or hate. However, kale slowly appeared in the vegan lifestyle as a dietary staple, and the popularity started to surge once again.
Curled Leaf Kales vs Flat Leaf Kale
You can divide most types of kale into a curled or flat leaf type. The one you typically see in the store is the curled leaf variety, but flat leaf is actually easier to work with when it comes to chopping.
Curled Leaf Kales
Crinkly or curled leaf types of kale are what you see in the store as classic options. They start out as ruffly seedlings. When the seedlings sprout, they look just like any other seedling, but they get ruffled leaves that are very distinct as they grow. They also form a hard and large stem on each leaf. Any plants you grow from seed can usually take between 50 and 75 days to reach maturity, and you want to check them routinely for common pests and caterpillars.
At full maturity, this plant can reach between one and two feet tall, and they usually have a sprawling growth habit to them. So, you’ll want to space them out when you put them in your garden so they don’t crowd eachother out.
Flat Leaf Kales
On the other hand, flat leaf types of kale are a lot easier to chop up, and this makes them a nice choice for salads or for adding to stews and soups. Lacinato kale is the most popular type of kale in this category, and it also goes by Italian kale, Tuscankale, and Dinosaur kale.
As the type of kale matures, it has a very upright growth habit that can get taller than curly kale varieties because they tend to sprawl out. The leaves stand straight and upright, and they grow from a main stalk. Siberian kale is one example of this type of kale, and it’s very closely related to the rapeseed plant.
13 Types of Kale
Now that you know a little bit about kale in general, we’re going to outline 13 popular types of kale for you to consider adding to your garden. Each one offers a slightly different taste and look.
1. Abundance Kale
The first type of kale on the list is Abundance kale, and it’s a great variety to have to add to your salads. This type gets specifically grown to be a microgreen size, and this makes it perfect for slipping between other plants or putting into a salad herb garden. This is an excellent option to choose if you want to set up a smaller container garden because it doesn’t take up too much space. It gets the name because it’s easy to grow several times every season, and you get a decent harvest from every plant.
2. Chinese Kale
Chinese kale is a type of kale that falls into the Alboglabra group, and you may hear it called Chinese broccoli. This is a great way to consider the plant’s growth habit. You get a very hearty main stalk with wrinkled or smooth leaves, just like a head of broccoli. It produces round green leaves, and it has a shorter stature. This is also a very heat tolerant plant, and you can grow it all year-round in warmer climates.
The buds, flowering stalks, and younger leaves work well in cooking. Just like traditional broccoli, the plant’s stem can easily get too fibrous and tough to eat. The buds, flowers, and leaves, can be stir-fried or steamed just like you would any type of leafy green kale.
Chinese kale is a very popular type to grow and eat, and it has a slightly shorter growth habit. Chinese Kale, planted 10/11/2011, by Eileen Kane / CC BY 2.0
3. Curly Kale
This type of kale has rippled leaves in several different shades of green. It’s also one of the most common types of kale you will see when you look around at your local grocery store. You get very large ruffled leaves in a deep green color, and one popular cultivar is Winterbor. It can get up to three feet tall, and it’s very cold hardy.
This is a great kale type to have if you want to add it to soups and salads. You want to massage the leaves using olive oil if you’re using it in a salad because this will soften the texture and make them easier to cut and eat. You can de-stem this type of kale by tearing pieces of the leaves directly away from the stem.
4. Lacinato Kale
Lacinato kale is one of the most distinct types of kale when it comes to visuals. It has slender, tall bluish-dark green leaves, and it can get several feet tall with an upright growth habit. The leaves have a bumpy texture that mimics the look of reptile skin, and you can get an heirloom variety from Tuscany called ‘Nero di Toscana.’
This is a great type of kale to eat raw because it offers a nutty, mild flavor. It’s also very easy to remove the stem. All you have to do is slide your fingers down the stem to rip the leaves off. When you toss it with olive oil and bake it, you get tasty kale chips.
5. Ornamental Kale
As the name suggests, this type of kale is very popular for use in decorations. You get a flower-like center that is purple, pink, or white. It is best planted in hardiness zones 2 to 11, so you get a slightly broader area when you plant it. It’s typical to put it in the floral part of your garden or landscaping instead of with your vegetables. Despite the name, this is also an edible kale variety.
This kale type tends to be far less tasty and much tougher, but it looks beautiful when it grows and acts like a nice garnish for your plate. You can add it to stews or soups if you want to get a vitamin boost. However, you should note that most people use it sparingly in dishes as it is very tough. You should only add it to recipes where you’ll cook it longer to soften up the leaves. It’s not something you want to put in your salads.
Ornamental kale is a nice choice if you want to add something unique to your garden or flower beds. It comes in striking colors and is very cold-hardy. Ornamental Kale by Danielle Scott / CC BY-SA 2.0
6. Portuguese Kale
This is a very rare type of kale that is the main ingredient in Portuguese caldo verde. It’s a very unique plant that will change quickly as it grows. It can form bigger outer leaves like you’ll get with collards, but the leaves will start to curl towards the plant’s center just like cabbage as it grows. It’ll also form a bunching head, and it has a more compact growth habit. You get high paddle-shaped leaves, but it’s not a heat-tolerant variety.
The plant is tender and sweet with a very rich but mild taste. You can easily separate the leaves from the thick stem on this plant, and it’s very popular in soups and stews like caldo verde or Spain’s caldo gallego. It has a very fast and full growth habit, and a few leaves can easily be more than enough to fill your soup.
7. Red Russian Kale
This type of kale is prized for the sweetness factor, even as a young plant. You’ll get a very distinct frilly texture on the leaves, and the stems take on a reddish hue as they mature. They get up to three feet tall, and it gives you an early crop. You can choose from a huge range of heirloom varieties, including the bolt-resistant Red Ursa and the Winter Red variety that has purple and red veins that turn white when you cook them.
The leaves on this type of kale are very tender, and they’ll keep the slightly peppery but sweet taste throughout maturity. They’re an excellent way to add a subtle but sweet taste to your salads, or you can eat them raw. A lot of people grow them to eat the tender young shoots.
8. Redbor Kale
This type of kale comes with very deep purple or burgundy leaves. It originally has a more flat leaf shape to it, but the curling, flavor, and color will show up as the temperatures drop in colder planting zones. This is a very hardy hybrid plant that can easily get up to five-feet tall at full maturity. It has a very mild taste that is kind of like cabbage. The purple kale retains a lot of the purple coloring throughout the cooking process, and you can easily put them into your salad greens raw for a fun pop of color.
9. Salad Savoy
Savory is technically a type of cabbage that is in the Brassica family, so salad savory is a type of kale that is a cross between kale and other Brassicas like cauliflower or cabbage. It’s in the savory family, and it grows a very dense head. As a result of the cross-breeding process, you’ll get a multicolored end product with red, pink, or white leaves and deeper green leaves. The leaves will sit in a tight bunch on the ground, and it looks very similar to cabbage.
You get a very earthy and mild taste, and it gets bred to have a very mellow flavor that you can use in a huge range of dishes. You can spot it in your grocery store, but be aware that it’s almost impossible to find as seed to grow in your own garden. It works well in soups, wraps, and salads, or you can fry or steam it.
10. Scarlet Kale
If you want an edible but colorful type of kale, this is a nice pick. It offers curly leaves with a very dark purple coloring, and this makes it both beautiful and edible. The curly leaf texture is slightly strange when you eat it raw, but the texture fades if you cook it. You can grow this type of kale in virtually any zone, especially if you have neutral soil and full sun. You also want to ensure that it gets enough water because wilting will lead to a bitter taste.
This kale will mature at a more moderate rate, and it usually takes around 60 days to fully mature. The longer you let it go, the deeper the scarlet color will get. The flavor also turns lighter and sweeter. The leaves are also very crunchy and firm, so you want to eat them raw instead of cooking them. They do very well in salads.
This type of kale is one way to add a welcome pop of color to your garden, and the color can get richer as the season goes on. Scarlet kale by littlenomada / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
11. Scotch Kale
The most popular type of kale in this category is Vates or Blue Curled Scotch kale. It has blue leaves that are very curly, as you could tell by the name. This is a shorter variety to grow, and it tops out at two-feet tall or less. It’s a biennial that can survive for two growing seasons, and it produces very early. It does best when you put it in stir-fries or salads, and you get a very nutty and sweet flavor that makes good kale chips.
12. Siberian Kale
This type of kale is more closely related to the rutabaga and turnip families than to the kale one. It has wide, flat leaves with a hardy nature, and it tends to grow close to the ground. This is a hybrid that came from cross pollination with wild plants. Most types of kale come with a single stalk on this and grow upright. This one grows in a very low cluster to help it survive colder temperatures without any damage.
The leaves are much more tender on this cultivar than others, and you get a very mild flavor instead of a bitter note that is so common with kale. Allowing frost on them can make it taste even sweeter, and it offers a flavor that is very close to cabbage. So, it’s possible to add it into any recipe that requires cabbage. It’s best to put it in a salad as a tender leafy green.
13. Walking Stick Kale
The final type of kale on the list is a very unique variety. It can get up to an impressive six feet tall, and the stem tends to dry out and you can use it as a walking stick or cane. It makes a nice privacy panel too. You can grow it in zones 2 to 11 without a problem, and it’s a low maintenance plant that doesn’t need any special care.
How to Use Different Types of Kale
Once you pick out a few types of kale, you want to know how to use them. Some work better for certain dishes due to their tough texture, but others are much more versatile. You can use the following for inspiration.
Bleaching your kale can work to soften the texture and help get rid of the bitter notes in the taste. It also sets in the green color, so you can cook it for a long time without it washing out. All you have to do is dunk it in boiling salted water before rinsing it in an ice bath once you drain it. However, blanching your kale will remove some of the vitamins. The less bitter taste and softer texture can encourage you to eat more of it though.
When you braise something, you cook it slowly in a small amount of liquid. The naturally tough texture mature types of kale have responded very well to slow, long heat exposure in a closed area. It soaks up the flavor of whatever else you’re cooking in the pot while turning more tender. Chilies, garlic, bacon, and tomato all make fantastic braising flavor agents, or you could try a mix of ginger, onion, and black pepper.
It’s very easy to make your own kale chips. You’ll need a hot oven and a small amount of oil. You can add garlic or salt if you like and top them with parmesan cheese. Cook them low and slow for a few hours until they crisp up and dry out.
Adding kale to the oven will warm it up and wilt it in a very small amount of time. All you have to do is cut it, spread it out on a single layer, and roast it for five minutes in the oven. You can then dress them as a salad and add your chosen toppings.
One quick and tasty way to eat kale is to cook it in a frying pan over medium-high heat with a small amount of oil or butter. You can season it with pepper and salt or add sweet chile peppers or garlic for more flavor. This is a great way to cook when you want to cook different types of kale or greens at once. You’ll cook delicate greens like spinach for a slightly shorter time, and it takes a maximum of 15 minutes to saute your kale and have it ready to go.
Sauteeing is a fun way to quickly cook a larger quantity of kale, and you can easily add garlic or other spices to create a tasty side dish. Cooking Kale by Megg / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Steaming is a great way to soften this tough green. Cut it however you want to serve it before placing it in a colander or steamer directly over a pot of shallow, boiling water. Cover it and cook it for 5 to 10 minutes until the kale is tender. Let it cool until you can comfortably handle it before squeezing out as much water as possible. You can serve it at room temperature or warm.
If you like to chew your salads a lot, you can treat your types of kale like chopped lettuce. If raw kale is too bitter and intense for you, you can quickly massage the leaves first. Grab a handful of them and rub them to break down some of the fibers to make them less tough before you eat them.
Adding a handful of kale to your smoothie will boost the nutrient content. Green smoothies have a huge range of flavor possibilities, and sweet fruits like blueberry, avocado, pears, and mango can remove the bitterness.
Before you add kale to your soups, you cook the green down until they’re very tender while keeping all of the nutrients in the soup. Potatoes or beans are great components to your soup, and the kale will add a nice layer of flavor.
We’ve outlined 13 different types of kale for you in this post, and we’ve also given you ideas on how to use them. You can now mix and match a few different ones in your garden and see how they can enhance your dishes when you cook with them.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.