Are Collards the New Kale?

As in pink has been the new black in my opinion for as long as I can remember now…but really, is kale taking a final bow and preparing to return to its mundane spot on the plate as a plastic-esque garnish? Not quite, but it has become apparent that people are tiring of its attention in the spotlight. Just as it has hit nearly every mainstream menu as the new trendy raw salad, it is losing its glam appeal. As the peculiar group that we are, humans in general will always tire of the conventional, the ordinary, and the not-so-secret.

If we look back to the trends of late, from arugula and avocados to coconut and dark chocolate, we find that these foods lose their hotness as soon as the market is saturated. Now this is not to say that we ditch them altogether – coconut still lines the shelves from soups, cereals, drinks, and candy (for now). We are just no longer enamored by them. We keep them in our fridges but must move on to find the next diamond in the rough…and it is usually a food or product that has been right under our noses for quite some time, reinventing itself like Madonna every decade.

And now with tiny whispers slowly growing in number, you are presented with the next super-“trendy”-food headlining this spring: The Collard Green. Like kale, it belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family and is in season right now. Along with cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, collard greens bring with them powerful cancer-fighting potential. Glucosinolates can be thanked for their amazing effect. With food processing or even chewing, these compounds are broken down into isothiocyanates, potent molecules that actually aid in the programmed death of tumor cells, thus being coined anti-carcinogenic. They are thought to especially ward off lung and esophageal cancers while lowering the risk of gastrointestinal and other cancers as well.

Very high Vitamin A and Vitamin C, collards are a great source of antioxidants. When environmental toxins and pollutants enter your body, these antioxidants act as fire extinguishers by calming and suppressing their harmful volatility. The toxins, or oxidants, take part in the aging process by causing oxidative damage to all of your cells. Antioxidants help to slow this process by decreasing the oxidative stress placed on cells. Because of their high fiber content, they are thought to lower cholesterol by binding with cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestinal tract and encouraging the excess cholesterol to be evacuated from your body. The fiber content is also very beneficial for your digestive health.

Traditionally, collard greens are cooked in a large pot for hours at a time. A ham hock is usually added for rich saltiness and of course the fatty mouth feel. However, like cabbage, cauliflower and other members of the cruciferous family, over-cooking will lead to a strong sulfur smell that is not very appetizing- and when you aren’t using a ham hock to mask these odors it is no bueno. Those magical isothiocyanates can also be leached out of the leaves if cooked for too long, so just don’t do it! Cook them as you would kale or spinach: steam alone, sauté with garlic and olive oil, use in soups, pastas, and casseroles…just give them a try!

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