What Is Red Kale?

Amanda R. Bell

Red kale is a type of wild cabbage that is relatively easy to grow in almost any climate. It can be used as a garden plant, although it is most well known as a vitamin rich, healthy green. This type of kale can be cooked in a variety of ways and is considered one of the easiest greens to work with.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Red colored kale is well known for its dark purple stem and dark red veins. The leaves of this kale are dark to medium green in color, thick, and often shaped similar to oak leaves at the edges. Some varieties, such as red Russian, can grow as high as 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91 centimeters). It is related to cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts, all of whicj are in the species Brassica oleracea. While it is considered a type of cabbage, the center of the kale does not come to a head like typical cabbage; instead, the leaves fan out from the center.

Red kale is a cold hardy, disease resistant plant. It is rarely plagued with pests and can generally grow in any type of soil provided there is adequate drainage. In many areas of the world, this kale is allowed exposure to frost, because this tends to make the greens slightly sweeter than normal. In most climates, the seeds are sown between March and May, and the kale can be harvested anywhere between September and March. It takes between 28 and 32 weeks after planting before the kale is ready for harvest.

The unique color and shape of red kale makes it a popular garden addition, especially when used as a border around taller flowering shrubs or plants. It is also often included in ornamental cabbage gardens. Frost causes the grey-green leaves to become more purple in color, thereby making it an attractive garden plant even in the winter. Although red kale does work well in these areas, it is best known as a vegetable. This green is chock full of nutrients, including vitamins K, A, and C.

Considered a winter vegetable, red kale is often included in hearty soups and stews and stands up well to the strong flavors of sausage and gamier meats such as venison. Smaller, tenderer leaves are often added to salads; when used raw, it is slightly chewy and sweet with only a small amount of bitterness, unlike other greens. This type of kale is also a popular addition to stir-fry meals, although it can be steamed and served as a simple side dish. Kale chips, made by baking leaves until crisp, are considered an extremely healthy snack by nutritionists.

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