chopped kale

It’s hard to deny that we’ve become kale obsessed. There are millions of ways to cook kale. You’ll find it in chips, smoothies, and pesto; there’s nothing that this leafy green can’t do. Today, it might seems like we’ve always been a country that runs on kale, but that’s not the case. Kale skyrocketed in popularity just a few years ago. USA today reported that kale increased on restaurant menus by 400% between 2008 and 2013. Before 2013, the largest purchaser of kale was pizza hut, and they weren’t buying it for salads. Kale was the leafy green decoration that they used to fill out their buffet stations. How did kale move from garnish to salad staple?

The history of kale

Kale has a long history as a reliable crop. According to the Agriculture Department at Texas A&M, the Ancient Greeks and Romans grew it. Some theories say it dates back to 600 BC, when the Celts brought it to Europe. Since it is resistant to frost, it comes as no surprise that kale has done well in colder regions, and it played a role in early European history before making its way to North America in the 17th century.

Kale might be a relatively new addition to American restaurant menus, but that isn’t the case everywhere. In Germany, there’s an annual Grühnkohlfahrt, basically a celebration dedicated to eating a lot of cooked kale. In the Netherlands, where traditional dish stamppot boerenkool,mashed potatoes and kale, graces winter tables. The green was such a staple of Scottish fare that in the local dialect ‘kail’ means ‘food’ in general, and the expression “to be off one’s kale” implies that you are ill.

Ways to cook kale

We love adding kale to our dinners.

Seared kale can be an the perfect side dish to complete a meal, like in this recipe for Seared Steaks & Garlic Kale with Cheesy Roasted Potatoes.

Seared Steaks & Garlic Kale with Cheesy Roasted Potatoes

Kale is a satisfying way to add a vegetable to pasta dishes, like in this recipe for Creamy Pasta & Kale with Fried Rosemary & Walnuts.

Creamy Pasta & Kale with Fried Rosemary & Walnuts

Kale doesn’t have to be cooked. We love a robust salad with raw kale and a delicious dressing, like this Chicken & Kale Caesar-Style Salad with Radishes & Almonds.

Why Kale?

We could equate the rise in kale’s popularity to an increased awareness of health. As Jennifer Iserloh, co-author of 50 Shades of Kale, puts it, “Kale is the king of the superfood kingdom. People are incredibly interested in health and more and more people are cooking at home—kale is cheap, versatile, and one of the best foods you can put in your body.”

But it’s not just because of a desire to eat better. Kristen Beddard Heimann, founder of The Kale Project, sort of agrees. She equates the soaring rise to a combination of health awareness, an increased popularity in farm-to-table restaurants and the rise of the internet and high profile food bloggers and celebrities. As she puts it, a lot of it has to do with stars “creating a lifestyle that people aspire to.” Case in point, Gwenyth Paltrow makes kale chips on Ellen. People go crazy.

Then there’s the influence of our personal relationship to food and our ability to share that relationship; “If Instagram had been around when sundried tomatoes (1985) or arugula (1990) were hot, I’m sure there would have been more backlash. because the trend would have spread so much. like it has with kale. Kale just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” says Beddard Heimann.

Is kale still cool?

Based on search trend data, the official kale trend kicked off somewhere between 2007 and 2009. According to Bon Appétit, 2012 was the Year of Kale. That puts us well past the prime of the kale trend, but it’s far from over. Today, there are more ways to cook kale than ever. It make no longer be an essential salad in fine dining establishments, but it’s a hearty and widely available green that we love cooking at home. Trends come and go, but kale’s nutritional power means it’s here to stay.