People started predicting peak kale in 2012. The number of farms growing the leafy green had more than doubled; Bon Appetit named it the Year of Kale. But we keep eating more. Sales went up another 31% last year. Peak Kale is nowhere in sight. But Big Produce is not resting on its kale laurels. Instead, it’s on a quest: Creating the next kale.
One produce company in Salinas, California–the epicenter of kale production–is hoping the answer might lie in selling a part of the broccoli plant that would normally be composted, not eaten. They’re calling it BroccoLeaf: The leaves around a broccoli crown that most people have never seen.
“Before that crown has even formed, we go in and we harvest some of the younger, less mature leaves,” says Matt Seeley, VP of marketing at The Nunes Company, which sells the new vegetable in its Foxy Organic brand. “And that’s really what the BroccoLeaf is.”
It looks a little more like collards than kale or chard, and tastes milder. “Kale is much more bitter,” he says.
While there’s never been much demand for broccoli leaves, the company says that the same thing was basically true of kale not so long ago. “Kale was one of those less-than-desirable items for over 40 years,” says Seeley. “Kale was the thing on the side of the plate when you go to a restaurant, with a little orange rind on top of it, and you’d shove it off to the side. You didn’t want to eat it. But now kale is a superfood.”
The produce company learned about the vegetable last year as they expanded their juicing program. “One day a grower came into our office saying ‘You got this juicing thing wrong,'” Seeley says. “‘I juice every morning and kale clogs up my machine. This is what I use.’ In his hand, he had a bunch of broccoli leaves.”
After some experimentation, they realized it was better suited for juicing than kale, because of the mild taste and water content. So they sent it out for nutritional analysis. “It was loaded with all these superfood qualities,” he says. “We thought, hey, maybe we got something.”
Like kale, a single serving of broccoli leaves has a full day’s dose of Vitamin A or C. Broccoli leaves also have more calcium, more iron, and more potassium than kale.
And arguably it’s also better for the environment–the plant is already growing broccoli crowns, so no more water or other resources are needed to harvest the extra leaves.
The question, of course, is whether people will become as obsessed with it as they have with kale. “It’s hasn’t been a smooth ride,” Seeley says. “We’ve got a product that consumers don’t know about, they don’t know what it tastes like, and they don’t know how to use it. Other than that, we’ve got a home run on our hands.”
So far, it’s available in limited markets around New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and used by a small group of restaurants and juice companies.