Why do people think kale is so expensive?
November 3, 2017 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm a big fan of garlicky greens. Most of the year, those greens are kale. I have regularly seen advice to avoid kale to save money, because it's so "trendy" or "expensive". I've seen this advice in various places (including ask.me) over the last 10-15 years, and I'm wondering why, when in my experience kale is pretty cheap?

Kale definitely had a faddish period, but I think of it as kind of an average brassica - longer shelf life than spinach, shorter cooking time than collards. Priced between 99c and $1.90/bunch, same as the other leafy greens, whatever store or farmers market I've bought it from.

Is this a latte thing, where there was an article somewhere in 2006 and the advice just gets republished forever? Or is this a regional thing, and there is a place where kale is harder to grow or less common in regional cooking than the northeastern US? Or is it about some other "kale", and not the ordinary curly kale from the grocery store?
posted by sputzie to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could you give us an example of what you're talking about? It may that the source of the advice lives in a place where kale is expensive. Otherwise we can't tell you why they would say that.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2017

At my grocery store kale is 2x the price of lettuce and romaine.
posted by xyzzy at 12:59 PM on November 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Anecdata: In Burlington, VT, I would estimate the average kale price to be $2.50-$3.00 per bunch.
posted by papayaninja at 1:06 PM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's definitely regional to an extent. Kale is practically free where I live (the US South) but I have noticed that is not the case in other places.
posted by something something at 1:11 PM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kale is a dollar or two more per bunch or pound in MA. Mustard, dandelion, and turnip are cheaper.
posted by carrioncomfort at 1:20 PM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kale is $3-4.50/bunch in my Boston suburb. Even at the "cheap" supermarkets. Spinach is more like $2/bunch, though more expensive if you're getting the prewashed kind in the plastic tub. Organic spinach cost hovers around the price of non-organic kale [lower end of the range I mentioned above]. Fresh collard greens are around $3/bunch, non-organic. Same with chard. We get all of these greens year-round, but collards are less prevalent than the other three.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 1:22 PM on November 3, 2017

I think it became a stand-in for yuppie-dom so people aren't really interested in the actual thing or its details as much as its value in running down the lifestyle of folks they don't like.
posted by Smearcase at 1:24 PM on November 3, 2017 [16 favorites]

The local price of kale can vary quite a bit too. These are all Portland numbers. There's a small neighborhood grocery store in a historically african-american part of town here that sells collards and kale for .75c a bunch. The greengrocer by my house sells it for about $1.50. Same thing sells at a conventional grocery store for $2. OG product goes for $3+? I haven't been to a farmers market lately, because of pricing, but I would venture a guess that it hovers around the 3-4 mark.

I mean, when I'm at the fish market, they'll sell you a bunch of it for $.50 if you're buying anything else. They buy it for their displays, and don't advertise their kale for sale. I don't go to the fish market often, but when I do, you can be certain I kale.

That's a pretty wide spread of pricing just in one locale (...LO-KALE?!? /dadjokes)

I have not seen so much "Jesus fucking christ, Kale is expensive" but more of a "The people who are deep into kale and have kale bumperstickers or kale falling out of their panniers, likely spend too much on it at Whole Foods." Which is probably true.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:33 PM on November 3, 2017 [17 favorites]

I'm sure this is a regional thing. Where I live kale is as cheap as you mention, chard is pricier and collard, mustard, turnip etc. greens are hard to find at all.
posted by noxperpetua at 1:35 PM on November 3, 2017

Depending on the season, kale in Texas is just a few cents more per (non-organic) bunch than collards and mustard greens. But I AM constantly scoffing at the price of pre-made items such as kale salad, kale smoothies, etc, and would factor those costs into an overall assumption that kale is expensive.
posted by theweasel at 1:42 PM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing I've noticed is the type of kale influences price dramatically. Curly kale is way cheaper than lacinato, for example. I prefer lacinato but I think in Seattle I usually see it go for $2-3 a bunch for organic which is way more than other greens.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:00 PM on November 3, 2017

I didn't know what kale looked like until I was 33. I mean, I knew it was leafy and green, but other than that I had no idea. I was surprised to discover it looks so much like cabbage. So lots of people, like me, may not notice the kale that is all around them, which could add to the perception that it is a fancy vegetable that you can only buy in expensive organic food stores.
posted by colfax at 2:19 PM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree this is regional, but also think theweasel is correct that a lot of the references are to restaurant dishes at trendy restaurants with kale in them, more so than purchasing it yourself and making something from scratch. Similar to how making your own avocado toast vs. purchasing avocado toast at a trendy cafe will be a very different price.

Although neither the kale smoothies nor the avocado toasts are what's bankrupting millennials, so part of it is definitely obnoxious handwringing, in my opinion.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:36 PM on November 3, 2017

Kale is routinely cheap here in my part of Ontario. Sometimes you get two large bushels for $3. It’s half that for just one. For some reason, lettuce tends to be more expensive.
posted by Kitteh at 2:58 PM on November 3, 2017

The idea that kale represents a prestigious or aspirational ingredient at genuinely expensive restaurants is...a little undersourced, let us say. I mean, not that it doesn't get used sometimes, but that it's sold as a lead ingredient that "elevates" the dish to "justify" the price....no. (Though I admit I haven't eaten in many high-end vegetarian restaurants.) On that basis, you might as well take against celeriac.
posted by praemunire at 3:23 PM on November 3, 2017

+1 for regional pricing variation. Kale is more expensive than pre-washed spinach in western Oregon, shopping non-organic at cheaper grocery stores. I ate a lot more kale in Mississippi, where it was cheaper relative to other greens.

Kale grows fine in Oregon, but I also don't see the giant bags of pre-washed shredded kale I'd buy in the south. Maybe just more a culture of greens-eating down south?
posted by momus_window at 3:35 PM on November 3, 2017

One other reason could be that most people don't eat kale stems. Depending on how carefully you de-stem the kale, you can end up with quite a bit less than the volume of the original bunch you paid for, as opposed to iceberg or romaine lettuce where you can eat almost all of it. So if you're judging the price of something by volume, rather than by nutritional content (or taste quality), you may find kale to be a rip-off.

(Kale stems are quite tasty sauteéd in olive oil, btw!)
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:15 PM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I can pay $5 for a bunch of kale (sometimes less) whereas a bag of frozen green beans is less and covers a lot more meals. While it's more widely available now than even five years ago, it's still in the more 'trendy' end of the vegetable spectrum.
posted by kitten magic at 4:57 PM on November 3, 2017

Yeah, I think they're making enough kale to meet demand now, but, funny story: last year right before that big blizzard here in nyc, I went to the hipster grocery store in my (rapidly gentrifying) neighborhood and there was a huge hole where all the emergency kale was stocked...and a broken open bag of quinoa all over the floor in front of the big empty space on that shelf. Also no fiji water.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:32 PM on November 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden. It also reseeds itself if you let it. So it's practically free to the gardener, making even a low price at the grocers seem absurd. I have a lot more respect for the price of Belgian endive, which is complex to grow, or asparagus, which has to grow for a few years before harvesting can begin.
posted by SandiBeech at 7:11 PM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Around here I pay $1.59/pound for plain kale or around $3.50 for a sack of chopped, washed kale, but the brand-name kale in the "superfoods!" display is almost $3/pound (sold in quite small units of around a quarter-pound!) and MORE THAN SEVEN DOLLARS A SACK which is just shocking.

I assume people who are fainting from the expense are buying it at the superfood! display and not next to the cabbage.

I do notice that kale is more expensive out-of-season (or after a crop failure) than it used to be, I imagine because more of it is being sold year-round as the superfood! kale and the cheap regular kale gets promoted to superfood! when there's not enough kale.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:05 PM on November 3, 2017

I was surprised to discover it looks so much like cabbage.

It is cabbage. So are broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, and collards. Different breeds of the same species.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:02 AM on November 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ok, well here's a ridiculous side note: apparently I still don't know what kale looks like, because I have been under the impression for the last year that savoy cabbage was actually kale. Which it's not. But it just goes to show you that for some reason, kale remains a very mysterious vegetable to people like me.
posted by colfax at 5:31 AM on November 4, 2017

Given that the nutritional profile of kale is not that different from napa cabbage (30-80c/lb, depending on season) or broccoli (70-90c/lb), I think you could argue that kale is expensive on a "dollar per nutrition" basis.
posted by yonglin at 8:45 AM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I get kale at the farmer's market 9 months a year for $2-3 bunch, and it's organic. Northeastern US.

There's a whole discussion around thinking of foods as "cheap" or "expensive" instead of thinking about nutritional value for dollar, as yonglin notes. Yes, iceberg is cheaper, but iceberg delivers very little nutritional value. Kale, on the other hand, is a powerhouse, especially for vitamins A, C, and potassium. The industrial food system will always be able to deliver more calories cheaper, so food cost alone makes for a poor tool when deciding what to eat.

I agree that kale got aspirational for a while, when eat local, farmer's markets, and farm-to-table restaurants hit the mainstream. But I feel like the mania has settled back a little.
posted by Miko at 10:43 AM on November 4, 2017

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