If you’re a lover of greens then kale and spinach are probably near the top of your list as the most popular and most common. Visually, it’s pretty easy to tell these two apart but do they have more in common than meets the eye?
The biggest culinary difference between kale and spinach is how fibrous kale leaves are compared to spinach. This difference affects the taste, texture and overall cooking time of kale, separating it from spinach.
What is Kale?
Kale is a close relation to broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprouts as it belongs to the Brassica family of vegetables. Though, unlike its relatives, kale is a leafy green packed with fibre, making its leaves super thick and sturdy.
Said leaves are commonly dark green but can range in colour all the way to purple. Likewise, kale leaves can be curly or smooth depending on the variety.
The overall flavour of kale does vary very slightly, but kale as a whole tends to be bitter, especially when the kale is young and raw. Cooked kale does not taste as overwhelmingly bitter, taking on a nutty and earthy flavour.
It is mostly enjoyed in raw salads, steamed, sautéed, or added to soups, stews, smoothies, and stir-fries. Some people even bake kale into crispy chips for a healthy snack alternative.
Kale and spinach both offer a wealth of nutritional benefits, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. While they share many similarities, each has its unique nutrient profile. It’s beneficial to include both in a balanced diet for varied health benefits.
What is Spinach?
Though there are a whole variety of leafy greens in the world, spinach is by far one of the most popular and well-known, made famous through the iconic cartoon Popeye, where spinach was used to make Popeye strong.
This strengthening quality is true of real spinach as it is packed full of healthy goodness such as iron.
Spinach is a leafy vegetable with vibrant green leaves that can be crinkled or smooth. The leaves are tender even when raw, making them the perfect choice for raw salads or to use as a topping for pizza and pasta dishes. But because the leaves are delicate, they do wilt quickly when exposed to heat.
Similarities Between Kale and Spinach
As you would expect from two leafy green vegetables, there are several undeniable similarities between kale and spinach:
- Nutritional Value: Both kale and spinach are highly nutritious and considered superfoods. Both vegetables provide essential nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and K and minerals like calcium, iron, and potassium (learn more about the health benefits here).
- Leafy Green Appearance: It may seem obvious but a big similarity between kale and spinach is their leafy green appearance in the sense that they both have green leaves that look refreshing and healthy.
- Versatility: Kale and spinach are versatile vegetables used in various culinary applications. They can be enjoyed raw in salads, steamed, sautéed, added to soups, stews, and stir-fries, or incorporated into smoothies and juices.
- Common Availability: Because they are so widely applicable in cooking, kale and spinach are available in pretty much every supermarket all year round. While their prices do vary, they are typically very affordable.
Differences Between Kale and Spinach
While it is true that kale and spinach can be used in many of the same circumstances, their basic characteristics are very different. For example:
- Taste and Texture: Kale is slightly bitter and earthy, especially when raw. It has a chewier and fibrous texture, which can be softened when cooked. On the other hand, spinach has a milder and more delicate taste, often described as slightly sweet or grassy. It has tender leaves that become wilted and soft when cooked.
- Leaf Structure: Kale leaves can vary in appearance, with some varieties having curly, ruffled, or lacinato (also known as dinosaur) leaves. Spinach does not have as much leaf variety, tending to remain smooth and flat regardless of the spinach type.
- Nutritional Makeup: Kale and spinach may be considered superfoods because of their nutritional value, but how they are valuable is different. Kale has more vitamins while spinach has more minerals such as iron. It may not seem like a drastic difference but, depending on your health goals, you may favour one over the other.
- Peak Harvesting Season: Like is the case with most vegetables, supermarkets will always have some supply of kale and spinach, though they may not necessarily be of the best quality depending on when in the year you buy them. Kale is at its peak in the cooler months while spinach is best enjoyed in spring and autumn.
- Culinary Applications: Kale is often used in heartier dishes and can withstand longer cooking times. It is commonly sautéed, roasted, or used in soups and stews. Kale leaves can also be baked into crispy chips. With its tender texture, Spinach is more commonly used raw in salads.
Yes, kale can be substituted for spinach in many recipes. Both are nutritious leafy greens, but kale has a more robust flavor and tougher texture than the milder and softer spinach. Adjustments might be needed depending on the dish.
Kale vs Spinach: Which Wins?
If you’re a lover of all things green, then choosing between two staples such as kale or spinach can be tough. But, that’s what I’m asking… You’ve got to pick just one! So, which are you voting for?
Do You Prefer Spinach or Kale?
Acacia may be a freelance writer by day, but they are a food fanatic by night. They are always trying out new recipes or finding different ways to elevate classical dishes. But their biggest culinary aim is to educate others on the basics of the kitchen so that they too can enjoy delicious food.