Friday, March 30, 2012

Kale? No thanks!

i recently received the following comment and thought I would share it with my blog's readers because it brings up a good point for discussion, the fact that kale and other Brassica vegetables do have a bitter taste to them.

The taste of raw kale after blended, to me, is horrible; even when mixed
with fruit.  I thought it was something I was doing incorrectly, so I
blended the organic kale again by itself and the horrific level increase
to the point where, after taking the lid off of the blender to smell it,
the aroma burned my nostrils as well as my eyes.  After drinking the
juice/smoothie, I feel a bit nauseous.   However, eating raw organic kale does
taste far more pleasant than after blended its leaves.

I have only found one (1) instance of anyone telling the truth about how
bad kale tastes as a juice.

Is this normal for Kale to taste so horrible after blending/juicing.

Well, I am here to tell you that the first time I heard about anyone putting kale in a smoothie, I thought they were kidding or desperate for some way to include kale 'hidden' in their food because I could not imagine kale 'adding' something pleasant to the taste of a smoothie. And I am someone who does not like smoothies that are too sweet, which they all were in the very beginning of the smoothie craze, way back when. In fact, I am known for putting raw or frozen unsweetened cranberries in my smoothies to cut the natural sweetness of fruit or juices. 

The first time I did put kale into a smoothie (I had to have my curiosity finally overcome my inclination that the combination would be just awful), I must confess right here for all to know that I was also overwhelmed by the 'kale effect', i.e. the nearly over-powering and rather unpleasant smell of kale, when I took the top off the blender. Perhaps my reaction is what the reader's comments referred to. 

However, not one to throw food away, and still very curious, I poured the smoothie into a glass and let it sit a bit, which helped to diminish and even disperse the strong smell immensely. I even had the courage to taste the smoothie at that point and found that yes, I could definitely taste kale, but it was not overpowering or unpleasant, just very green. This was a long time ago, and now I just know that 1) I do not inhale deeply when taking the top off of my blender and 2) to wait a bit before drinking my kale smoothie. 

Other tips I have found to help with this situation:
1) Use less kale
2) Use baby kale
3) Use lacinato kale (this variety must have a lower level of glucosinolates or contain some other compound that counteracts the known bitterness of glucosinolates)
4) Use lightly steamed and cooled kale (I have done this with plain, no oil added, unseasoned left-over kale, which does not happen very often)

What is likely going on here is related to the fact that chemicals and sensitivity to them works both ways. Plants contain bitter molecules to keep themselves from being eaten so they can fulfill their biological destiny, meaning not get chewed to bits by insects or other animals before they have reproduced (gone to seed). We detect bitter or other 'off' (think rancid) flavors to protect ourselves so that we also can fulfill our biological destiny to the species, i.e. reproduce! 

Genes are involved with our taste sensitivities and it is now known that people with two copies of a certain gene will be 'super-tasters', i.e. more likely than others to not just dislike, but outright reject eating certain plants that contain bitter or astringent molecules, which are contained in all Brassica vegetables.  An article describing the details of this phenomenon is here. Remember President Bush I and his famous dislike of broccoli? He was likely a 'super-taster' with two copies of these particular genes involved with tasting bitterness. 

I hope this short response answers your question. I have tried to be as truthful as I know how, both professionally and personally. 

Where kale is more than decoration on my plate and is still in my smoothies, too!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


Anonymous said...

I heard a Dr. Lange, of Lange Eye Associates on a radio program this weekend. He stated that one should not eat raw kale, spinach or other brassica vegetables due to the oxalates which might cause kidney problems and that lightly steaming breaks down the fibers making them easier to digest and release other nutrients. Lutein was one he mentioned for eye health. Wonder your take on this. I know he is big on nutrition from foods rather than supplements for the most part.

Diana Dyer said...

I know I sound like a 'broken record' but my recommendations are 'moderation' (for example, I never eat an entire bunch of kale myself in one sitting, neither raw, cooked, or juiced) and I always eat a kale a variety of ways (raw pieces in a salad, lightly steamed, roasted, stir-fried, raw/massaged, raw in a smoothie (you get the idea), plus I eat a wide variety of Brassica vegetables in any given week (often 5+ types, easily) so I am getting a wide variety of helpful molecules and those that might be somewhat troublesome, not going overboard on anything, good or bad! I am for variety and interest in my diet, not being 'stuck' on any one thing, even a good thing!

Michelle said...

I'm surprised by that comment. I use curly kale in my smoothies, and have never had a strong smell or unpleasant taste. I use almond milk, and frozen bananas in my smoothie, and I find the only thing I notice is a very green smoothie. Of course everyone has different taste and smell reaction to foods. But I love kale in my smoothies.

Diana Dyer said...

I love kale in my smoothies, too, and since I have been doing that (maybe 10 years or so), I feel it is 'missing' if I make one without kale. My best guess is that 'amount' is the culprit with this reader, irrespective of the variety or genetics. Since kale has become 'sexy', everyone seems to be trying to eat more and more of it. I refused to post a comment one reader made a while ago that included a link to her own You tube video because it promoted eating bags of kale daily. Yes, bags. This is all a flash-back to 15 years ago when soy became the darling of the media and people were trying to drink a quart of soy milk daily or eat a pound of tofu daily. No one does that in any food culture! Not only is it possible that extra large daily amounts of any one food is 'too much of a good thing", more importantly a diet that heavy on any one food 1) is likely missing out of some other important nutrients and 2) is surely BORING!!
Variety, variety, variety. :)
Off my soapbox now!

ms beezus said...

I love kale in my smoothies. I use lacinato kale with a combination of cooked thick cut oatmeal, blueberries and sometimes raspberries or almond milk. I add a few ice cubes and blend away. It is always delicious!

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine a smoothie without kale nowadays. My guess is that the reader probably used too much. For a person that doesn't already like kale, I can imagine it would be overwhelming to have more than a few stemmed leaves. I use 4-6 (or a good handful) usually without the stems.

I'm interested to hear more about why not to eat it raw.

Anonymous said...

If you pull the leaves off the stems (green and red curly kale), it really cuts the bitterness.

I love kale green smoothies.

Diana Dyer said...

I love kale green smoothies and its a good thing that my dog loves the kale stems! Not much goes to waste in our kitchen. Thanks for that tip. :)

Anonymous said...

My brother is a juicer and he uses kale all of the time. I was thinking about getting into juicing although kale was not really on my juicing menu.

I figure if I want some green, I will get a shot of wheat grass and wash it down quickly with some other juice.

I figure if you want some thing healthy in your juicer, you can use some of the Dyer awesome garlic

Anonymous said...

Wow, am I glad someone else wrote about kale's bitter taste! I just started juicing and used the Mean Green recipes SICK, FAT AND NEARLY DEAD on my first juice, scrupulously following the recipe, which included 6 kale leaves. I have used kale in stir fries and was fine with it. A little nervous (I had invested in a Breville 850 and I really wanted this adventure in juicing to be successful), I took a cautious first sip. Fine! Quite nice, in fact. No problem-o. However ... I picked up a fine bag of organic kale, biiiig leaves, lotsa stem and carried it proudly home to juice this week end. Same recipe, but maybe, just maybe, I got carried away with the amount of kale and I left the stem. Awk! Ergh! Slammed across the room with that bitter kale after taste, so much so I grabbed a slice of Ancient Grain spelt and retired to my bedroom to lie down. Nauseous? Oh, yeah! This morning, I tried again and darn if I didn't leave the stems on ... is that the issue? The d**m stems? Again, but not so bad, was that evolutionary reaction to bitterness. What's a juicing gale to do? Cut the stems? Clueless in Missouri.

Anonymous said...

I too bought a juicer after seeing FAT SICK AND NEARLY DEAD and the horrible taste of kale is exactly how I ended up on this website. I started with the "green" juice recipes as they were written but found them impossible to drink...the taste was so aweful. Until recently, I was juicing only 2 leaves (destemed) in any recipe calling for kale, just so that I could actually drink the juice. But then I discovered organic baby kale. I bought a ginormous bag of it at Costco last week hoping that it would taste better than the full grown stuff in my juice. Not only does it taste better but it actually tastes GOOD! Now, I am the furthiest thing from a Nutritionist that you will ever meet but surely, 2 great big handfuls of baby kale have to be just as good or better for you than 2 leaves of the grownup stuff...doesn't it?

Diana Dyer said...

Glad you found baby kale and found it tasty in your juices. Buying kale from a local organic farmer is another step to try. I have one farmer I buy my kale from (when I don't have my own to harvest) who just has the sweetest kale. It is young, tender, and was picked that morning. It is beyond delicious in smoothies or right out of the bag on the way home!

Soxx said...

I love Kale and eat bags and bags of it with me and my girls. If you to make i less bitter in the smoothie add lemon neutralizes the bitterness.
patty Maizels

Anonymous said...

I have dinosaur kale that's a year old and now the stalks are at eye-level! I've been harvesting individual leaves all year. The last few months there's a very cabbage-y odor to them that I hadn't noticed before. Is this cause to pull the stalks and replant? Or can I keep harvesting as long as the leaves look good (albiet stinky)?

Anonymous said...

My yogi pal gave me a wonderful green smoothie recipe. Try it, even kiddos love it!
Frozen pineapple chunks
Coconut water
Ground flax seed
Chia seed
Blend, once ingredients are pretty well blended add your kale (as much as you like, I like mine very green). Add agave syrup if you have a sweeter side. Enjoy!!

Anonymous said...

I have never eaten raw kale and today for the first time, I picked some out of my garden and cooked it because I eat kale like one would eat collard greens and sometimes, I mix kale, collards, and cabbage together and cook, um yum, lol. anyway it was very bitter which led me to believe that eating kale this time of year is what cause the bitterness because when I eat it during the early fall months, it is not bitter and it's delicious.

Beja {} said...

I'm so glad that Anonymous shared about the organic baby kale from Costco because I just bought some yesterday hoping it would taste better in the Mean Green Recipe!

HOORAY! And I didn't know about the stems being bitter.

Thanks for all this great info!

Anonymous said...

Ive been green juicing for about 6 months now and loving it. However I started to up the kale amount I was juicing. This whole last 2 weeks Ive been juicing roughly 1 large bunch of kale or more daily. I do mix other vegetables and a fruit or two in also. But now my energy is starting to lag and Ive found myself even taking daily naps, not that naps are bad mind you, I just never needed them before. My stomach is also feeling the effects with several daily restroom visits. I do believe moderation in all thing is key. Ive also found through research that cruciferous vegetables can be bad for thyroid function when too much is consumed raw. So I will be cutting back to only juicing 3 or 4 kale leaves and blanch/steam more in my daily diet. We are all different and should always seek to find our personal balance. Being properly informed helps too. Ive always juiced the stems too but lemon does truly cut the green flavor, I do remove them for cooking though. Also frost brings the sweetness/sugar out in certain plants as to explain the better tasting adult kale in fall/winter.

Unknown said...

I don't have a problem with kale in my smoothies but I do have a problem with frozen, thawed kale. It's horrible. I read that you can freeze it and use it so they must of meant use it in it's frozen state. Thawed then used was definitely not tasty.