Kale fails as a superfood

"Stick some kale in if it makes you feel better."
"Stick some kale in if it makes you feel better." Photo: David Reist

"Oh." And there it is, that slightly disappointed tone in her voice. "I pictured you as been more mature, late 60s, quite portly and in a cardigan."

It's a funny thing, living up to expectations. Rather than being a pretty unremarkable early 50s version of myself - surprise, that I'm not the result of some strange dietary experiment. You've probably noted I haven't mentioned pork in a while. I did a calculation and if I want to keep ahead of the calorific intake, I need to run 300 kilometres a week.

Thinking of those years ahead, how you’ll be as a pre-retiree (I’m hoping for a slight stoop like Poopdeck Pappy in Popeye only with teeth like actor Gary Busey) I wonder what message I'd send back to myself when I do get to the cardigan years. Health issues for sure.

Spiced cauliflower soup.
Spiced cauliflower soup. Photo: David Reist

My main message though, surely, would be don’t believe all that bunk about kale being a superfood. As a witty Facebook friend says, the only things that are super are heroes and phosphate.

I note at the markets that kale has been transformed, much like Peter Parker when bitten by that radioactive spider, to a "super food". You’ll buy a cold-pressed juice and it’ll have this list of ingredients – carrot, celery, ginger, beetroot, orange – but the star ingredient is kale. Even amongst this group, kale is the superhero needed to rescue the situation.

I look down from the kale at the display of decidedly un-super spinach. It must be thinking, with the same desperation of Popeye, “Oh, what am I? Some kinda barnicle on the dinghy of life?" And over there the Brussels sprouts are inconsolable - I think people are watching me now as I play-act the accents on all the green vegies - "Merde, but we taste the same.” I think it's a Jean-Claude van Damme accent.

So what is it about food that needs to be declared ‘'super’' to make it appealing? And is this accurate? Are they indeed in disguise like so many Clark Kents? Needing to research the supposed superfood quality in kale, I rang my scientist friend.

After a pause, he rather gruffly admonishes me to stop calling at three in the morning - if I ever call him again he'll call the police to reinstate that restraining order. And, for the 10th time, he is an astrophysicist and knows nothing about kale or superfoods.

Anyway, Google directs me to many sites proclaiming the amazing qualities of kale. They are vague at best. Healwithfood.org professes 10 different health benefits for kale and goes on to list four of these. It's a "nutritional powerhouse" that is overflowing with antioxidants, only bettered by garlic, red cabbage and sweet potato. And also, even the site admits, savoy cabbage, beets and arugula. Suddenly it seems a little crowded in the Avenger room.

In fact (again believing websites as I do), let’s look at the ORAC  (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value of kale - the "oxygen radical absorbance capacity of food". It's like how much bad stuff they can absorb so your body doesn't. Which is the main superpower entrusted to kale. Above kale are dozens and dozens of common foods including: a Granny Smith apple; a glass of zinfandel (not that common but any deeply coloured red wine will do); peanut butter has twice the rating of kale – on and on - a chocolate bar has almost four times the antioxidant quality of kale and will taste a hell of a lot better.

So, who are you going to call? Captain Kale or Mighty Sumac with almost 200 times the ORAC score? Sure, drink your horrid kale shakes, be self-satisfied, whilst trying to digest the indigestible, but an Indian curry has so much more juice to protect your body from free radicals. Eating kale is like sending Christopher Pyne to fight General Zod, Thunderbolt Ross and Loki all at once, with just his princely wit.

What I'm trying to say is any vegetable will provide similar benefits. Making a cauliflower soup fortified with kale is fine, but it won't be any better for you really if you use spinach or broccoli. In fact adding a spoonful of ground spice increases the antioxidant qualities and flavour far more. Stick some kale in if it makes you feel better, roasting it first will making it slightly more digestible, but I hate it. As Popeye says, I yam what I yam and I yam what I yam that I yam.

Spiced cauliflower soup featuring kale

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large head of cauliflower
1 tbsp spice mix: cumin, sumac, coriander, clove, cinnamon
40g butter
1 leek, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery
1 clove garlic chopped
150ml milk
1 litre chicken stock (home-made of course)
Salt
1 bunch curly kale (optional)

Heat oven to 200C, cut out the thicker heart of the cauliflower and cut the rest into florets. Toss these in olive oil and spice mixture. Bake in oven until soft and charry. Chop up the heart of the cauliflower and saute in butter with leek, onion, celery and garlic over low heat so it doesn’t colour. Add the baked cauliflower, milk and enough stock to almost cover the brew. Season with salt. Cook this for another 5 minutes until it starts to break up a bit. Remove a cup of the cooking liquid and puree the soup, adding back the cooking liquid to get a nice thick but not stodgy soup, season. 

If you’ve opted for the kale, and there’s nothing I can do to convince you otherwise, then carefully cut off the curly leaves from the thick stems and toss all this in the bin. OK, sorry, brush the leaves with olive oil and bake in a hot oven for a few minutes until they are crisp but not burnt.

Serve as a garnish to the soup, crushing them up to aid digestion ever so slightly. Are we clear on this? You can have a fine soup without superfood kale.