massaged kaleLearning how to massage kale is essential for anyone who likes massaged kale salads. If you think that kale is bitter, tough, and difficult to eat raw, you’ve probably never tried massaged kale! 

In this article, I’ll explain the benefits of massaging kale and provide step-by-step instructions on how to do it properly. In a few minutes, you’ll be ready to build your salad bowl with perfectly massaged kale.

Why Massage Kale

Regardless of variety, kale is kind of tough, which is why most people love cooking it. It holds very well even in long-cooked soups and stews. 

But what if you want to eat kale raw in a salad? That’s where massaging kale comes in.

It sounds strange to massage kale, but it’s the best way to eat kale raw. Massaging kale greatly improves its flavor and texture. Rubbing the leaves releases natural sweetness, making kale less bitter and more palatable. It also breaks down tough fibers, resulting in kale that is more tender and easier to chew. It’s one of the reasons kale salads taste so good at restaurants. Have kale skeptics in your life? Massaged kale is a sure way to convert them into kale enthusiasts!

Now that you know why to massage kale, let’s move on to how to massage kale.

how to tenderize kale for salad

Tips for Massaging Kale

Ingredients

  • Kale: the ideal kale for massaged salad should have bright, vibrant leaves without any yellow or brown spots. The leaves should be fresh and crisp. Kale past its prime time or starting to wilt should not be massaged (more on that later). Of all the different kale types available, I typically use curly kale for massaging – it’s quite hearty so it withstands massaging well, it’s the cheapest and the easiest to come by. Here’s a list of the most common kale varieties:
    • Curly kale: perhaps the most common and versatile type of kale. Curly kale has a bright green color with tightly curled leaves, a slightly bitter, earthy flavor, and a crispy, chewy texture, making it ideal for salads, soups, and sautéed dishes. A younger version of curly kale is called baby kale, which is typically found in a box of salad greens.
    • Tuscan (Lacinato or Dinosaur) kale: one of the most popular types of kale. Tuscan kale has dark green, almost blueish color, and long leaves with a bumpy texture. Its flavor is sweeter and milder than curly kale, and its texture is less chewy. Tuscan kale is ideal for making kale chips and is an excellent addition to pasta dishes – just make sure you don’t overcook it as it can quickly lose its chewy texture.
    • Red Russin (scarlet) kale: this type of kale has a purplish-red stem and flat, frilly leaves. It has a sweeter, milder flavor than curly kale and is less chewy. Red Russian kale is excellent for quick salads and smoothies, but because it’s quite tender, it’s not ideal for massaging.
    • Chinese kale (Chinese broccoli): while not quite as common, Chinese kale has large, glossy, crisp leaves and a thick stalk. It has a slightly bitter, peppery taste, which is why it’s often stir-fried with matching Asian flavors. 
  • Salt: a little bit of salt helps bring out the natural flavors of the kale and tenderize it. Some suggest adding an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, but it’s not necessary. It’s more like “either-or” as acids alone will tenderize kale in the same way massaging it with salt would. However, you can definitely add lemon juice to kale for extra flavor.
  • Olive oil: I recommend extra virgin olive oil because it has a fantastic herbal, slightly peppery flavor that compliments kale really well. However, you could also use avocado oil or any other oil you like. While you don’t need oil to soften kale – you can certainly massage kale without oil – I like the flavor it delivers. 

massaged kale ingredients

How to Massage Kale

Ready to learn how to soften kale for salads?

  1. Wash the kale. This is an obvious step – rinse the kale thoroughly with cool water to remove any dirt. 
  2. Remove the stem. Kale stems are tough and fibrous, so remove them. You can either hold the stem with one hand and pull the leaves away from it with the other hand or use a knife to cut the leaves away from the stem. Don’t throw away the discarded stem -it’s great in stir-fries or homemade vegetable broth
  3. Cut the kale. Sure, you can rip the leaves off by hand, but I prefer cutting them into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Massage the kale. Add the kale to a large bowl together with the salt and olive oil (optional). You could also add a drizzle of lemon juice for more flavor. Use your hands to massage the kale leaves, crunching and rubbing them together until they just start to wilt, for about 2 minutes. Turn the small pieces frequently to make sure they soften evenly. The kale should reduce in volume by about 30%. Be careful not to over-massage the kale; otherwise, it will lose its texture and become lifeless. The goal is to tenderize the kale, not weaken it. 
  5. Taste. Pick a piece of kale and try it. The leaves should still feel crisp but not overly chewy or rubbery. 

how to soften kale

how to massage kale

When Not to Massage Kale

While massaging kale can be a great way to improve its flavor and texture – especially for massaged kale salads – there are instances when it might not be the best option. 

First, if you’re chopping the kale into thin little pieces, you don’t really need to work it over before serving it. Any dressing you’ll use will render it tender enough. On the same note, if you’re working with baby kale, you definitely don’t need to massage it. Baby kale is delicate enough to eat right away. 

Second, wilted kale that’s past its prime time is not ideal for massaging. The leaves will be too fragile and may break during massaging, resulting in a mushy, unappetizing texture.

Third, if you’re using kale in a cooked dish, such as soup or stir-fry, there’s no need to massage it. The heat from the cooking process will naturally soften the kale leaves, making them tender and easy to eat. The same applies to kale chips. 

How to Store Massaged Kale

  • Refrigerating: transfer the massaged kale to an airtight container and refrigerate it for up to 3 days.

Massaged Kale Recipes

Massaged kale makes the perfect base for any kale salad. 

It’s also a great side dish – drizzle on a little bit of lemon juice, and you’ve got a delicious side. 

massaged kale

How to Massage Kale

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
Learning how to massage kale is essential for anyone who likes massaged kale salads. If you think that kale is bitter, tough, and difficult to eat raw, you've probably never tried massaged kale! 

Ingredients
 

  • 1 bunch (1 bunch) curly kale
  • 2 tsp. (10 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) lemon juice (optional)
  • pinch (pinch) sea salt

Instructions
 

  • Wash the kale. This is an obvious step - rinse the kale thoroughly with cool water to remove any dirt. 
  • Remove the stem. Kale stems are tough and fibrous, so remove them. You can either hold the stem with one hand and pull the leaves away from it with the other hand or use a knife to cut the leaves away from the stem.
  • Cut the kale. Sure, you can rip the leaves off by hand, but I prefer cutting them into bite-sized pieces.
  • Massage the kale. Add the kale to a large bowl together with the salt and olive oil (optional). You could also add a drizzle of lemon juice for more flavor. Use your hands to massage the kale leaves, crunching and rubbing them together until they just start to wilt, for about 2 minutes. Turn the small pieces frequently to make sure they soften evenly. The kale should reduce in volume by about 30%. Be careful not to over-massage the kale; otherwise, it will lose its texture and become lifeless. The goal is to tenderize the kale, not weaken it. 
  • Taste. Pick a piece of kale and try it. The leaves should still feel crisp but not overly chewy or rubbery. 
  • Store. Leftover massaged kale keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Notes

*Nutrition information is approximate and may contain errors. Please, feel free to make your own calculations.

Nutrition

Serving: 1of 2, Calories: 66kcal, Carbohydrates: 3g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 6g, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 0.3g
Course: How-To
Cuisine: American
Keywords: how to massage kale, massaged kale