Kale’s popularity has a lot to do with its nutrients. This leafy vegetable is known for its high concentration of beneficial plant compounds, including glucosinolates, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C (
That’s why you’ll see kale in products like superfood greens powders, green smoothies, and greens capsules, as well as dishes like salads and soups. It’s also incredibly easy to grow, which makes it a common choice for home gardeners.
You may only be familiar with one or two types of kale, but quite a few varieties exist. These differ in color, texture, leaf characteristics, and even nutrient composition.
One study identified four major varieties of kale (
Each of these four groups contains several sub-varieties. For example, the popular lacinato kale fits into the Italian group (
Here are 10 delicious types of kale — many of which you’ve probably never heard of.
Winterbor is a popular type of curly kale that’s a favorite of both commercial growers and home gardeners. It’s one of the most cold-hardy of all kales, meaning that it can withstand freezing temperatures.
Its curly leaves have a bluish-green color. It grows up to 3 feet (91 cm) tall.
Because of its thicker leaves, most people cook winterbor kale, though you can also eat it raw.
Try it in soups, stir fries, or smoothies. Its thick leaves also make amazing kale chips.
Lacinato is a type of Italian kale also known as dinosaur or Tuscan kale. It has dark green, blade-shaped leaves and can grow up to 3 feet (91 cm) tall (
This variety was originally grown in Tuscany and is an important part of traditional Italian cuisine (
It’s also an excellent source of fiber and vitamins C and K (
Plus, one study that compared eight kale cultivars found that Tuscan kale was highest in carotenoid compounds, including neoxanthin, lutein, and beta carotene, all of which have significant antioxidant activity (4).
Unlike some other types of kale, lacinato is tender, which makes it ideal to use raw in salads. You can also add it to soups, frittatas, and other cooked dishes.
Red Russian is a type of Russian kale that’s sweet and tender.
Despite its name, Red Russian kale is slate green in color, with dark purplish stems. It’s cold-hardy, making it a popular variety for commercial and backyard farmers living in colder climates.
It’s known as “baby leaf” kale when its leaves are small and young — and is most commonly eaten in this form. Baby leaf kale is particularly delicious raw in salads.
However, you can also eat it fully mature, when the plant reaches 2–3 feet (61–91 cm) tall.
This is one of my favorite types of kale to grow in my backyard farm.
Scarlet kale boasts stunning purple leaves and stalks. Its color becomes more vibrant as temperatures drop.
A study that compared eight kale cultivars found that scarlet kale had the highest amount of total tocopherols and alpha tocopherol (4).
Alpha tocopherol functions as a powerful antioxidant, protecting your cells against damage from unstable molecules called free radicals. This compound may also support immune function and fight inflammation (
Scarlet kale can grow up to 3 feet (91 cm) tall. You can eat its young, tender leaves raw in salads or cook its mature leaves to add to soups or grain dishes.
If you’re looking to add color to your plate, Redbor kale may become your new favorite green.
Reaching 2–3 feet (61–91 cm) in height, its deep reddish-purple leaves have a frilly texture. Interestingly, its color, texture, and flavor are enhanced by colder temperatures.
Its leaves are crisp when raw but become tender when cooked, making it a perfect addition to dishes like stews and pastas. You can also finely shred its leaves to create a bright and crisp raw salad.
Beira is a special type of kale from Portugal. Also known as Portuguese cabbage or sea kale, Beira has wavy green leaves that are used in a traditional dish called Portuguese kale soup.
What’s more, you can peel Beira kale’s thick stems and eat them like celery stalks.
These plants need ample space to reach their mature height of about 2 feet (61 cm).
Studies show that glucosinolates have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and that adding glucosinolate-rich foods to your diet may help protect against chronic diseases (
Did you know that kale can grow up to 12 feet (3.6 meters) tall?
Walking stick kale is also known as walking cabbage, cow cabbage, Jersey cabbage, and tall jacks. This gigantic leafy green has been grown in Europe for hundreds of years (
Historically, on the Isle of Jersey in Europe’s Channel Islands, stalks of walking stick kale were varnished and used as canes.
Most people prefer to eat the younger leaves because of their tender texture. The older, tougher leaves make good animal feed.
Darkibor is a type of curly kale that’s dark green and has tightly curled leaves. These productive plants reach up to 20 inches (51 cm) in height and thrive in a variety of weather conditions.
Darkibor’s curly leaves make ideal kale chips or ingredients for stir fries and soups. You can eat younger, tenderer raw in salads.
Another study noted that darkibor was highest among several kale varieties in prebiotic fibers called Raffinose-family oligosaccharides, which benefit digestive health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and reducing pathogens in your gut (
This multi-branching leafy green is also known as “branching borecole.”
Thousandhead kale extends up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height and has massive leaves that can reach up to 3 feet (91 cm) in length. The leaves are only slightly curled at the tips, which makes it easier for growers to spot pests like caterpillars.
You can sauté its larger leaves for soups or add the younger, tenderer leaves raw to salads.
Japanese flowering kale might be the best looking kale on this list.
It has a rosette shape with a fuschia center and green outer leaves. The leaves are frilly, which adds to its visual appeal.
In Japan, it’s known as habotan and is placed in gardens for a pop of color during cooler months.
Although it’s popularly used as an ornamental kale, Japanese flowering kale can also be eaten. In fact, it’s said to have a sweet flavor that’s delicious both raw and cooked. Growers also say it makes excellent kale chips.
Although you may only find a few types of kale at your local grocery store, plenty of varieties are grown around that world, including winterbor, scarlet, redbor, beira, and ornamental varieties.