Darren Gray

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The king of kale

Kale grower Steve Bruynen believes the increase in popularity of the "super-food" can be attributed to rise of healthy cooking shows on television.

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Hollywood megastar Gwyneth Paltrow; England's Ashes cricket squad; a buck's party in the snow. On the surface nothing seems to link the three. And yet one (usually green) thread ties them all together, the so-called new superfood, kale.

The vegetable - a member of the brassica family - is increasingly turning up in the blenders, juices, salads and fridges of Melburnians. More farmers seem to be growing it, and demand at the greengrocer is rising.

Paltrow is a fan of kale chips and fried rice with kale and spring onions - which her children reportedly call ''green rice''.

Tahnee Bruynen shows off some kale in Pearcedale.
Tahnee Bruynen shows off some kale in Pearcedale. Photo: Ken Irwin

''Kale - or any dark leafy green, for that matter - can be tough to get kids to eat, but when these chips hit the table, the kids forget it's kale,'' she says.

But there is no forgetting it's kale for England's cricketers. Kale is in an 82-page list of catering demands the England and Wales Cricket Board supplied before this summer's Ashes started.

The English have asked that a ''selection of two juices'' be available for breakfast, and helpfully list the quantity of ingredients required: one apple, kale and cucumber; two beetroot, apple and ginger.

Pearcedale market gardener Steve Bruynen believes his father, a Dutch immigrant, was the first person to grow the vegetable in Victoria, back in the 1950s. For many years it was mainly Dutch immigrants who bought the family's kale, he says.

''We didn't sell great amounts but it always sold,'' he says. ''It was seen as a winter crop. It has a fantastic tolerance to cold, it can survive under snow. In Holland they used to shake the snow off, burrow underneath it, break a leaf off and use it for food.''

And it was on a visit to the snow three years ago when Mr Bruynen, attending a buck's party, got the inspiration to improve kale marketing.

Until that point sales were only solid, but by no means spectacular. But after a discussion with another guest about packaging, he started selling kale in a clear plastic sleeve containing at least 250 grams of the vegetable - the change marked the start of a rise in sales. The sleeve is marked Super Kale and spruiks a long-standing recipe of his mother, which advises to ''chop leaves finely'', ''add a pinch of bicarb soda'', and ''lightly frost before cooking''.

Mr Bruynen says the juicing trend has ''transformed'' the kale market.

At Eat More Fruit in South Melbourne Market, store owner Alex Ali is surprised at the sharp rise in kale sales over the past year. At this time last year, the store sold about 10 bunches of kale a week. Now, the store sells 50 bunches a day. Mr Ali believes most of his customers buy it for juice.

''Seventy-five to 80 per cent of the customers are buying kale now,'' he says.

Chef Matt Wilkinson, co-owner and chef at the East Brunswick cafe Pope Joan, has been using kale for years. ''It's beautiful to grow, but to eat it's really diverse. It's got a little bit of earthy flavour to it,'' he says.

''My favourite way that I've been serving it recently is that you wash it and then you fry it really quite hard, so some of it goes crispy and some of it is nice and soft. And serve with a cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese dressing, fried egg and toasted almonds.''