Behind the Rise of the Almighty Kale


Photo by Bobbi Bowers/Flickr 

Crisis averted. Foodies and health nuts can go back to eating their kale salads and drinking their kale protein shakes in good conscience now that reports of a kale shortage have turned out to be premature.

Jeff Tricket, sales and marketing director at Bejo Seeds, Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Bejo Zaden, the world’s largest supplier of kale seeds, told Yahoo Health that the company was unable to fulfill “a few seed requests” but “the majority of [kale] growers received sufficient supply to handle their planned production.” Bejo Seeds, Inc. now produces six times the amount of kale seeds in North America today than it did five years ago.

Kale’s meteoric rise over the last several years has even caught food industry insiders off guard. Chef and author Alison Fishman Task told Yahoo Health she would not be surprised if there had been “an organized effort” to boost kale’s visibility with consumers. “Kale has become so ubiquitous,” she noted. “I have a hunch that the kale board spent so much money to promote the hell out of it.”

There is no official kale-lobbying group, but the leafy vegetable’s sudden explosion in supermarkets, on restaurant menus, and at farmers markets does seem slightly suspicious. Kale has even become part of the cocktail culture. New York restaurant The Wayland mixes kale with blanco tequila, lime, agave nectar, and ginger juice to create its Garden Variety Margarita (we haven’t tasted it yet). And kale has even infiltrated the dessert world, with various recipes for kale cakes floating around the web.

Americans had only recently accepted spinach as their trendy, go-to green before kale subjugated Americans’ hearts – and pocketbooks – quickly surpassing spinach as the No. 1 “super food.” A winter vegetable by nature, kale no longer has any seasonal boundaries. Its nutrient-rich dark leaves taste a little sweeter than the vegetable’s cruciferous brethren and consumers “feel virtuous after eating it,” added Fishman Task.

Marion Nestle, a professor of food studies and nutrition at NYU and author of “Food Politics” and “Why Calories Count,” argues that kale’s popularity can be attributed to one factor: “its aura of health.” Nestle does not dispute that kale offers many health benefits to consumers but she points out that kale doesn’t provide any more vitamins and minerals than many of its peers. More importantly, Nestle told Yahoo Health, it’s “hilarious” that kale has become so celebrated given the fact that “it’s an acquired taste” and “is tough and chewy unless cooked well.”

U.S. farmers grew 57 percent more kale in 2012 than they did in 2007, according to the Department of Agriculture. California ranks as the top-producing kale state, with 390 farms and 1,680 acres of kale harvested. Georgia and New Jersey take the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.

The supermarket chain Wegmans has more than tripled its kale supply in the last three years, according to Jane Andrews, Wegmans’ in-house nutritionist. provides consumers with dozens of kale recipe ideas and the supermarket’s 84 U.S. stores sell 27 different kale products. Wegmans also recently launched the sushi roll “Kale-elujah!” which contains sesame-marinated kale, green beans, carrots, and brown rice mixed with red quinoa, ground flaxseed, and chia seed.

“People know the benefits of eating plant-based foods,” Andrews told Yahoo Health. “Kale has been an evolution for consumers. We watch the trends but we can’t get too far ahead of our customers.”

Whole Foods Market now buys and sells more kale than all other greens combined, according to Lindsay Robison, a publicist at the grocery chain that focuses on all-natural and organic products. Whole Foods sells 22,000 bunches of kale per day and its customers have more than 250 items to choose from that include kale.

Will everyone be as excited to eat kale in the next five years as they are now? Remember endive and escarole? They too were once “it” veggies. These days, farmers are growing less of those greens and the number of harvested acres has dropped 44 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Since kale’s wild popularity will inevitably decline some day, Fishman Task has already picked out its replacement: cabbage.

“I would love to see more people eat cabbage,” she said. “It’s inexpensive and good for you.”

Cabbage smoothie anyone?