It's the go-to green of hipsters and those aiming to eat healthy, and it may be getting a makeover. Kale, a member of the same family as cabbage, brussel sprouts, and broccoli, is well known for it's health benefits -- why it even has "superfood" status. It may seem to dominate the produce section, even turn up in the snack aisle (kale chips anyone?), and be all over restaurant menus these days but kale hasn't been a popular crop in the U.S. for very long, and little research has been done into the kale market.
That's where Phillip Griffiths, a professor at Cornell University's Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, and doctoral student Hannah Swegarden come in. Griffiths and Swegarden are researching exactly what it is that make kale lovers tick. They want to figure out the ideal color, flavor, texture, and leaf shape for kale. They aren't just interested in the consumer, though. Swegarden has been talking to people on the production side, as well; farmers, seed producers, and kale-peddlers alike.
The aim is to create a scientific list of preferred traits for kale, which will hopefully help inform a perfect kale breeding program. Griffiths and Swegarden want to explore new leaf and plant shapes, as well as experiment with the boundary between green and purple kale varieties. Early research shows that many of us eat kale but don't really like how it tastes, so they may develop milder tasting, less 'kale-like" varieties.
Don't get too excited to try the new, scientifically-informed breed of kale in your favorite kale recipe yet, though. Griffiths and Swegarden warn that it's likely to be eight years or more before the fruits (ahem, vegetables) of their labor reach grocery stores and farmers' markets.