I love to try different varieties side by side because it gives you a good idea of the variability in flavor, appearance, and production. Besides that, i find it fascinating how different varieties can be from one another. They almost have their own personalities.
Just like with meeting people, I will find myself drawn to some varieties and others I find boring. Some might impress or interest me, or not. Sometimes I have come to appreciate one I didn’t like at first, and sometimes I fall in love at first sight!
All fall and winter I have grown many kinds of kale in the garden, and it was glorious to have so many different and interesting kinds to try in big, beautiful armfuls.
Some varieties I chose and started from seed, others were given to me as starts by Melissa Desa at the Southern Heritage Seed Collection to do a little informal home garden grow-out trial with some varieties that were tested at the Field-to-Fork program at the University of Florida organic gardens. I ended up with 16 different kales to work with. All taste testing was with plain raw kale fresh out of the garden, and i have recorded my impressions here:
This beautiful frilly green kale is one of my very favorites. Not only is it striking in appearance in the garden, but it was the ONLY kale to survive my ill-fated attempt at a kale trial last year that was cruelly devoured by the horrible chickens over and over again! It is extremely productive and easy to grow (read “hard to kill” in my garden).
Flavor-wise, it has a floral note, like dandelion flowers without the bitterness.
2. Scarlet kale
This kale is gorgeous, and brings dusky dark purple and shades of red to the winter garden. However, I’ve found it to be finicky and very slow growing, certainly not a variety i would grow for big production.
It has a slight pine flavor, a tanginess, ending with a hint of mustard.
3. Gailaan or Chinese Kale
This is the best-tasting kale ever! It tastes like tender little broccoli leaves, and produces little flower heads like sprouting broccoli. It has sweet, crunchy stems and is so delicious it got eaten to little nubs early in the season when the geese broke into the garden.
4. Tronchuda or Portugese Kale
This is said to be the traditional variety for Portugese Kale soup. It is collard- like, with wide, tender leaves and delightfully juicy stems and a slight tendency to curl into loose heads.
The flavor is grassy and mild with a hint of sweetness.
5. Adaptive Seed’s Kale Coalition
This is an unselected mix of 17 different open pollinated oleraceae kales and their crosses. I was really excited about growing this mixture, thinking it would yield some weird and interesting variations. However, in my garden at least it turned out to look very collard-like and almost all the same!
It was productive and cold tolerant and has a sweet, mild flavor, so it was a good kale, just not what i was expecting!
6. Red Russian
This is a common and very standard kale, and I’m glad it was included for reference. It has beautiful color and texture in the garden, the leaves are on the tougher side. It has a very mild flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste when tasted raw.
7. Dazzling Blue
This was a favorite, and was very productive and beautiful. The tender little leaves were irresistible to munch on in the garden.
The leaves are tender even when rather large and have a pleasant broccoli flavor.
8. Red Winter Kale
This is very similar in appearance to the red Russian kale, and without the plant labels i could never tell them apart, but flavor-wise they are quite different!
It has a floral flavor at first and a hint of sour at the end. The leaves are also more tender than red Russian.
9. Simon Broadleaf
This was a highly productive kale. I harvested and harvested from the plants, because I like the frilly leaves with pink centers, and it put out more and more leaves. It holds up well to being cooked in a large pot of soup that will be reheated several times. It is one of the tougher kales, so maybe not a salad variety but i prefer kale cooked anyway.
Raw it tastes like freshly mown grass with a slightly bitter aftertaste and a hint of spice.
10. Red Usa
This kale reminds me of a cross between Siberfrill and Simon Broadleaf. Perhaps not as productive as red Russian but i like the extra frilly leaves.
Taste wise it has a slight mustardy bite, a little heat, and the texture is on the tougher side.
11. Wild Garden Lacinato
This kale is smaller and slower growing than dazzling blue, and the leaves are tougher and more narrow.
It has a grassy flavor and mild bitter aftertaste.
12. Ethiopian Kale
Dazzling Blue and Simon Broadleaf might have inspired love at first sight, but Ethiopian was love at first taste! I don’t think it is the same species as the regular kale. It has an appearance similar to an over grown arugula in the garden, and the flavor is a striking mustardy, garlicky experience!
The plants have already bolted in the garden, so it doesn’t have as long of a season as other kale. The leaves make a delicious salad.
13. Wild Red Kale
This kale is pretty and productive. The texture is tough and makes a good soup kale ( i recently learned that in Scotland the word for kale is the same as for soup!)
The flavor is sour with a slightly pungent aftertaste.
This is the very common standard curly kale. It is productive and has the standard kale flavor with a sweet aftertaste.
15. Rainbow Lacinato kale
This kale is beautiful and diverse – sort of what i had expected the kale coalition to look like. The texture is on the tougher side and it has a mildly peppery flavor with a slight sour aftertaste.
16. Dino or Lacinato kale
This is the standard Lacinato kale. It has tender leaves and a sweet grassy flavor, but i think dazzling blue is more of a favorite for me at least. The savoyed leaves are beautiful.
Thanks so much for reading, and yes, i did get a stomachache from all the raw kale yesterday!