Kale is a popular and nutritious leafy green vegetable that has become increasingly common in recent years. While most parts of kale can be eaten raw or cooked, there are some parts that are not considered edible.
Kale Leaves and Stems
The leaves and stems of kale are the most commonly consumed parts. The leaves can have a range of colors including green, purple, white, and red. The stems are typically fibrous but tender when cooked. Both the leaves and stems are packed with nutrients like vitamins A, C, and K as well as minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Kale leaves and stems are versatile and can be enjoyed raw in salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and juices. They can also be sautéed, roasted, braised, or blanched. The stems take slightly longer to cook than the leaves, so many people chop and cook them separately to optimal texture.
Kale Flowers and Flower Buds
As kale bolts and goes to flower, small green flower buds will start to form where leaves join the main stem. The buds have a similar taste to the leaves and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Open kale flowers can also be eaten and have a mild, nutty flavor. They can be used as a garnish or incorporated into salads for visual interest and added texture.
After pollination, the kale flowers will develop into seed pods that contain dozens of small seeds. The seeds can be collected once the pods become dry and brown. They have an earthy, nutty taste similar to other cruciferous vegetables in the cabbage family.
Kale seeds can be eaten raw but are often toasted or roasted to enhance their flavor. They make a crunchy addition to salads, yogurt, cereals, baked goods, trail mixes, and granola. Sprouted kale seeds are also edible and contain a concentrated dose of nutrients.
The thick, woodier stalks that extend from the base of the kale plant are not considered edible. These stalks are very fibrous and lack flavor. Peeling away the outer layer reveals a tough, stringy core that is not palatable.
Some people may choose to juice small amounts of kale stalks to extract nutrients and liquids. However, the fibrous texture can be difficult on most juicers and blenders. It’s recommended to compost larger kale stalks instead of eating them.
Mature Kale Leaves
As kale matures and grows larger, the leaves can become very tough and fibrous. The flavor also becomes more bitter and pungent. Extremely large, old kale leaves are not ideal for eating raw or cooking.
It’s best to harvest kale leaves while they are still young and tender. Size can vary based on the kale variety, but leaves longer than about 8 inches are often too mature and fibrous to enjoy. Trim any tough stems and center ribs before cooking older kale leaves.
Kale that is turning yellow, brown, or slimy should be trimmed or fully discarded. Wilted kale leaves will also have a compromised texture and flavor.
Decaying and damaged kale may contain harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Always wash kale thoroughly and inspect leaves carefully before eating. Compost any kale that shows signs of spoilage.
Kale leaves with evidence of pest damage, holes, or insect eggs should not be consumed. These can harbor potentially harmful organisms along with unwanted texture.
Light pest damage is common and can be remedied by cutting away the affected areas of the leaves. Heavily damaged kale with frass or webbing should be fully composted.
Kale grown close to the ground has a higher risk of being contaminated with dirt, debris, feces, or microbes. Thoroughly washing kale before eating is essential.
However, kale that is excessively dirty or muddy should not be eaten raw. The grittiness cannot be fully washed away. Cooked applications are safer when using dirtier kale.
Some ornamental varieties of kale grown for decoration have marginal edibility and flavor. Their leaves are very tough and not suitable for eating.
Certain decorative kale plants have also been treated with chemicals or dyes to achieve dark shades of purple and red. Only eat kale varieties that are specifically marketed as edible.
While kale is an extremely healthy vegetable, certain parts and forms of the plant are considered inedible. The main edible portions are the young, tender leaves and stems. Mature leaves, fibrous stalks, decaying kale, and pest-damaged leaves should be avoided or composted.
Taking care to harvest, clean, and prepare kale properly maximizes its impressive nutrient content. Focus on fresh, vibrant leaves free of blemishes or dirt. With few exceptions, most parts of a kale plant can provide excellent nourishment when used correctly.