I have something controversial to say: I am not a fan of kale. In juices or cooked, I guess it’s fine. And I’ve wanted to bake with it since I saw this intriguing recipe for Kale and Apple Cake. But raw? No thanks- I’ll stick to spinach.
Still, it seems I’m outnumbered on this one. I recently got a promotional newsletter announcing that kale has shifted to a “mainstream” food. But Felicia, you say- kale has been “in” for a long time- even my grandma makes kale chips!
That may be so. But there’s an important distinction between what’s “in” and what’s mainstream. Kale at McDonald’s is very different from kale at your neighborhood $15-a-salad cafe. Most “trendy” foods never make it to the full mainstream market, even if they manage to crack every hip cafe across America. The fact that kale is making it more mainstream is actually rather impressive. For every kale or quinoa there’s a garlic scape just waiting to burst onto the scene.
I’ve written before about food trend cycles, based partly on a wonderful book from David Saxe about food trends in America. Saxe’s book traces why certain foods hit it big and others fade into oblivion. The Kale Email reminded me of a specific passage in his book- and actually, it almost seemed like they ripped his book off in a way. In this passage, Saxe talks with food expert Barb Stuckey about what constitutes a food trend in the U.S. Stuckey uses kale as her example to demonstrate the difference between foods that crack the hip food scene vs. the mainstream. She points out that kale will truly have “made it” when it’s a Doritos flavor.
Some of you may find this appalling- you may think kale is better served in craft foods, at fine restaurants, in your homemade smoothies. But really, “mainstream” foods span a range of uses, from Chez Panisse to TGIF. Kale may lose some hip value as it reaches to more menus, but it’s not like its nutritional values change in any way- so why ditch it just because it’s less “niche?”
The Kale Email I got was actually a paid message via a food newsletter I subscribe to. Funnily enough, I got the exact same message a week later, but this time directly from the manufacturer that sponsored the message rather than as a paid 3rd party email. The links directed me to the supplier’s website, but didn’t really share much info of interest. The one fun fact I gleaned is that kale originated in Asia, and was brought to Europe around 600 BCE. Kind of crazy it took so long for modern folks to care about it, eh?
Kale snacks were up 17% globally in the last year, and I think it’s safe to say the momentum will keep growing. At some point, maybe we’ll see those Kale Doritos Stuckey predicted. And then the food intelligentsia will likely move on to the Next Big SuperGreen. In the meantime, you can celebrate National Kale Day next week on the 7th- because yes, that’s a thing. That sounds like the perfect day to make a kale cake, don’t you think?