Last month we said that spinach was possibly the best leafy green in the world, thanks to the time-honoured vegetable’s great taste and big nutritional punch.
But in recent years a new contender has entered the ring, vying for the title: kale, the darling of farmers markets, home gardens and vegan restaurants. It isn’t a new vegetable, but its status as a hot new superfood is only about a decade old.
Thus, we will decide once and for all which leaf is truly King Green.
Round one: Best leaf legacy
Again, kale has been around much longer than its recent emergence as a trendy superfood. A member of the cabbage family, mediaeval Europeans were gobbling kale up by the wooden cartload a millennium ago. In the 2010s it became emblematic of the budding local food movement, for better or worse (for every fresh kale salad is a snarky joke about hippies).
Spinach has become a seminal vegetable mainly due to two things: a myth about its high iron content (a commonly cited origin to that myth may also be a myth) and, especially, spinach-guzzling American cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man, who might have been responsible for a full 33 percent increase in US spinach consumption.
Although kale bears the standard for an entire food movement, only broccoli rivals spinach for the most vegetably vegetable, cherished by parents – and reviled by their children – for a century.
Round two: Nutrition knock-out
This is where kale talks the talk, showing why it has become king of the farmer’s market. But does it completely live up to the hype – and, more importantly, can it knock spinach off its perch? Let’s look at a few numbers:
|Nutrient per 100 grams||Spinach||Kale|
|Vitamin C||34% recommended daily value (RDV)||49% RDV|
|Calcium||10% RDV||7% RDV|
|Iron||21% RDV||7% RDV|
|Vitamin A||59% RDV||85% RDV|
|Manganese||43% RDV||20% RDV|
|Other micronutrients in high amounts||Potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin E, Folate, B vitamins||Vitamin K, vitamin B6|
Both leaves are absolutely loaded with micronutrients and are worthy of their heavyweight status. Kale runs circles around spinach in vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K (of which 100 grams will give you 770% of your recommended daily intake). But spinach has a big edge over kale in protein and iron and offers a much more varied mix of other micronutrients.
Round three: Taste test
Kale is from the same family as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and has a more robust flavour than most leafy greens. Like spinach, it has rich, earthy notes, and both hold up to sautéing, stewing and other cooking methods.
Given its far longer status as a produce aisle staple, it’s no surprise there are more popular recipes that involve spinach. However, kale’s emergence as a superfood has made it more widely available and there are no shortage of recipes for excellent, kale-based salads, dips, stews and casseroles.
This one is a matter of taste – and they are hard to split.
Round four: Best in the garden
Both spinach and kale are excellent additions to your vegetable garden, and each requires the same basic growing conditions as lettuce.
Spinach is best planted in very early spring, requiring around six weeks of mild-cool weather to thrive. You can plant it in the autumn if your winters are mild, but it is somewhat sensitive to temperature, and will not grow well in the height of summer or deep winter cold.
Kale requires similar soil conditions and methods, but holds up better to extreme temperatures. It can usually be planted any time – it will withstand both midsummer sun and January snow – and this gives it a small edge over spinach for the home gardener.
Overall winner: Spinach
Although kale puts up a strong fight, it can’t quite unseat the reigning leaf king. Still, both have their own advantages and the best diets have a variety of vegetables. So if one of these leafy greens has always been your go-to, why not branch out and try the other for a change?