Kale has become an increasingly popular leafy green in recent years, prized for its nutrient density and versatility. While kale leaves are undoubtedly the star of the show, the stems are often discarded. This begs the question – are kale stems actually edible? The short answer is yes, kale stems are completely edible and can be a nutritious addition to your diet if prepared properly. Read on to learn more about the benefits of eating kale stems, how to prepare them, and some delicious ways to enjoy them.
Nutritional Value of Kale Stems
Kale stems contain many of the same beneficial nutrients as the leaves. Here is a nutritional comparison of kale leaves versus stems:
|Nutrient||Kale Leaves (per 100g)||Kale Stems (per 100g)|
As you can see, kale stems contain dietary fiber, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium and more. The nutrient content is lower compared to the leaves, but the stems still pack a nutritional punch. Vitamins C and K, in particular, are highest in the stems compared to other cruciferous vegetable stems like broccoli or cauliflower.
Benefits of Eating Kale Stems
Here are some of the top benefits of incorporating kale stems into your diet:
- Fiber: Kale stems contain dietary fiber, an important nutrient that promotes digestive health. Fiber keeps you feeling full longer and supports regularity.
- Vitamin C: With over half the vitamin C of kale leaves, stems provide this essential nutrient that supports immune function and promotes collagen production.
- Vitamin K: Necessary for proper blood clotting, vitamin K is abundant in kale stems.
- Antioxidants: Kale stems contain antioxidants like kaempferol and quercetin which combat inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Calcium: Stems provide a boost of calcium, a mineral necessary for bone, muscle and nerve health.
- Reduce waste: Using stems reduces food waste since you maximize use of the entire vegetable.
Overall, kale stems provide plenty of beneficial nutrition to make them worth eating. Simple preparations like sautéing, roasting or blending can help make stems more palatable and tender.
Choosing the Best Kale Stems
When selecting kale bunches with the intent to eat the stems, choose kale with:
- Firm, rigid stems. Avoid limp or wilted stems.
- Bright color without brown spots or yellowing.
- Stems that are relatively slender. Thick, woodier stems can be tougher.
- Leaves that are perky and deeply colored, not dull.
Baby kale and younger leaves typically have more tender stems compared to large, mature kale leaves. Look for vibrant, healthy looking bunches where the leaves and stems still appear very fresh.
You can use both curly and lacinato (dinosaur) kale stems, but curly kale stems tend to be a bit woodier while lacinato kale stems are often more slender. So for easier edibility, lacinato kale or baby kale stems are ideal.
Preparing Kale Stems
Kale stems can be made edible with some simple preparation techniques:
- Sauté: Slicing stems into thin pieces then sautéing in olive oil softens them nicely.
- Roast: Roasting chopped stems for 15-20 minutes tenderizes them.
- Blanch: Quickly blanching or steaming stems for 1-2 minutes softens texture.
- Puree: Blending stems into smoothies, soups or pesto helps diminish texture.
- Pickle: Quick-pickling thinly sliced stems in vinegar mellows their flavor.
- Braise: Slow braising stems for 30-40 minutes makes them melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Combining kale stems with other ingredients like broth, oil, citrus, or soft vegetables helps balance their texture during cooking.
If the stems are very thick or fibrous, consider peeling the stringier outer layer or removing the bottom 1-2 inches before cooking.
Tasty Ways to Eat Kale Stems
Here are some delicious ways to enjoy kale stems:
Soups & Stews
Kale stems shine in brothy preparations like soups and stews where they can become very soft and tender:
- Minestrone or vegetable soup
- Potato kale stem soup
- Chicken and kale stem stew
- Bean and kale stem chili
Sautéed Side Dishes
Sauté kale stems in olive oil with garlic, lemon, and spices for flavorful side dishes:
- Sautéed kale stems with onions and mushrooms
- Garlic lemon kale stems
- Kale stem hash with potatoes and peppers
Very thinly sliced or shredded kale stems work nicely raw in salads:
- Kale stem caesar salad
- Massaged kale stem salad
- Shredded kale stem and cabbage slaw
Smoothies & Juices
Blend kale stems into smoothies and juices to benefit from their nutrients without their texture:
- Green juice with kale stems, apple, celery and lemon
- Fruit and kale stem smoothie with banana, mango and kale stems
- Kale stem spinach smoothie with pineapple and orange
Pickle thinly sliced kale stems for an appetizer, sandwich topper, or salad addition:
- Quick kale stem pickles in apple cider vinegar
- Spicy kimchi-style pickled kale stems
- Kale stem and carrot probiotic pickles
Pestos, Dips & Spreads
Blend kale stems into pesto, herb spreads, and dips:
- Kale stem pesto
- Green goddess dip with kale stems
- Hummus with sautéed kale stems
– Store fresh kale stems in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Mist with water to keep hydrated if storing longer than 3 days.
– Kale stems can be frozen for later use in smoothies, soups or stews. Chop stems, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and freeze solid. Transfer to a freezer bag. Frozen stems will keep for 6-8 months.
– Pickled kale stems will keep for 4-6 months refrigerated.
– Blanched stems can be frozen for about 3 months before quality starts to decline.
Risks of Eating Kale Stems
Kale stems are very low risk but here are a few considerations:
– If you have kidney stones, kale stems contain oxalates so consume in moderation if you need to restrict oxalates.
– Kale stems may cause mild digestive upset in some people. Introduce slowly if you have a sensitive stomach.
– If taking blood thinners, such as warfarin, limit kale stem intake since their vitamin K content can interfere with medication effectiveness. Check with your healthcare provider.
– Avoid eating any parts of kale raw or undercooked if you have thyroid issues like hypothyroidism. Cooked kale stems are fine.
While most people discard or compost the stems of kale bunches, the stems are perfectly edible and contain plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The key is proper preparation – by slicing thinly, cooking thoroughly, and blending stems, their texture becomes a non-issue. Sautéing, steaming, braising, roasting and pureeing are all good cooking methods for kale stems. Adding the stems to soups, stews, pestos, smoothies, and pickles are all delicious ways to reap their nutritional benefits. With some creativity in the kitchen, kale stems can be transformed from waste to a tasty, nutritious ingredient.