The Most Common Types of Kale and How to Cook with Them

Yes, there are multiple types of this magical green leaf. Get familiar with red kale, baby kale, Tuscan (or dinosaur!) kale, and more.

drawing of different types of common kale greens, including red kale, curly kale, tuscan kale, and baby kale

Kale may be the hottest vegetable since, well, ever — seriously, once you have the Beyoncé seal of approval, you're never going out of style. But if you want to make the most of the fibrous veggie, you've got to get your kale facts straight, including that there are multiple varieties of kale. (And also that kale is great for your skin...the more you know!)

While all kales are packed with vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin K and iron), knowing your kale types can make adding this veg to your diet even easier. Here, the most common types of kale and how to best prepare them.

a photo of a few leaves of curly kale, the most recognizable variety of kale
Photo: Anna Shepulova / Shutterstock.

Curly Kale

Best for: Chips and general cooking

Curly kale is the most common — you've likely seen it as decoration on your plate at a restaurant, in salads, and sautéed. And since it's the most recognized (and probably the most readily available, too), there are a few things to know about curly kale.

"This kale, as most kale, is high in potassium, vitamin B6, and many other antioxidants; has a very peppery taste; and is slightly bitter/tangy," says registered dietitian Mariana Daniela Torchia, Ph.D. Like all other kales, it's also high in vitamins K, C, and B as well as fiber and antioxidants. Fun fact: It even has more vitamin C than an orange!

This is the typical kale you find in the grocery store, pre-packaged in bags or boxes or tied into bunches in the fresh produce section. It's dark green with curly edges on each leaf and has super-tough stems (which you generally want to remove before cooking or eating, since they're pretty bitter). Since it's a bit tougher than other kales, you'll need to massage it with some citrus or acidic substance to break it down if you're eating it raw, such as in a salad.

Because this type of kale is less crinkly than other kales and because the curly edges get crispy in the oven, you can make some great kale chips with this type, says Torchia. (Here's how to make easy kale chips — plus more veggie recipes.)

a photo of a bunch of red kale, or red russian kale, a common kale variety known for its red-hued stems
Photo: Yingko / Shutterstock.

Red (or Red Russian) Kale

Best for: Smoothies and salads

Red kale (or red Russian kale) has a very similar taste to curly kale, but — you guessed it! — often has red-hued stems. The leaves are flatter than those of curly kale (resembling arugula leaves) and can be green or gray-green in color. Red kale is often considered the sweetest kale, which makes it perfect for eating raw.

Another great option? Using it in juices, smoothies, and salads — just massage and soften the leaves with your hands to break down the fiber and make it easier for digestion, says Torchia. Also, cut off the thick bottom stems, since they're very chewy and bitter, she adds. (Though it's totally safe to eat if you want to; just cut it into small pieces and simmer.)

a photo of a bunch of lacinato kale, also known as tuscan kale or dinosaur kale
Photo: Leonori / Shutterstock.

Lacinato (or Tuscan or Dinosaur) Kale

Best for: Salads and cooking

This kale is super dark in color, a bit thinner in texture and appearance, and has wrinkles (but not curls). Lacinato kale is "great cooked and raw for salads, but it has thinner leaves so it's easier to eat than other kale sorts, which are tougher," says Torchia. It'll be a bit richer in flavor and chewier than other kales.

To eat it, remove the stems and massage the leaves (this is always a good idea because it begins the process of breaking down fiber), explains Torchia. "For a salad, try cutting it into thin strips and add a favorite oil with chili flakes and pressed garlic," she suggests. Optional: Add a little bit of balsamic vinegar, since the acid of the vinegar helps to soften the kale leaf, she says.

Be aware: This type of kale has a tannin-like taste, but it lessens once cooked — so if it proves to be too intense in a salad, you can cook it for a sweeter and milder taste, says Torchia.

a photo of a few leaves of redbor kale, which is purple in color and has super curly leaves
Photo: Quanthem / Shutterstock.

Redbor Kale

Best for: Soups and sautéing

Nope, not red kale again. Redbor kale is it's own variety, and it is a statement-maker: It has a deep purple color and super-curly leaves. But no noshing on raw redbor kale, unless you want a stomachache. "You would want to cook this one since it's dense and needs to be softened in soups or simmered in broth for a great taste," notes Torchia.

Simply toss it in a soup and simmer to soften, or sauté a quick side dish: Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and massage the leaves until they wilt a bit. Add a little pepper and garlic powder for taste, then sauté, and you're done.

This kale also contains an antioxidant called alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), which may help lower blood sugar in people with diabetes and boost heart health, says Torchia. Bonus: It also makes a great topper for pizzas and flatbreads, since its color makes it an excellent garnish.

a closeup photo of a bowl of baby kale, a common kale variety
Photo: Dori Dumrong / Shutterstock.

Baby Kale

Best for: Salads and smoothies

Baby kale is another kale variety that's easy to find at the store (usually in pre-packaged boxes or bags, near the salad greens) and is also, arguably, the easiest to use. It's similar to curly kale in terms of appearance and taste, but its leaves are much smaller and thinner in texture — so you won't need to massage it as you would with curly kale, says Torchia.

Because baby kale is so tender, it's great for eating raw (just like its cousin, red kale). You can use it for smoothies and salads or as a garnish. If you choose to cook it, it doesn't need nearly as much time as other kales — and you may want to reconsider cooking it at all, since it'll cook down, like other baby greens. (Here's the low-down on all the other types of leafy greens, besides kale and spinach.)

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