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Massaging Your Kale

Updated: Sep 9

We know, it may sound weird, 'massage your kale', but if you eat raw kale, trust me it's life changing.


I remember my friend telling me to massage the kale as I washed it while we were preparing a meal one day. I was perplexed to say the lease. But seeing how I bunched the kale between my fists and it starting to quickly get softer and become a deeper green, I was amazed. I used to just wash my kale and add it to smoothies or have it in a salad. But it would make sense because when I would get kale salads anywhere else the kale was always so much more 'edible'. I guess this was the differences I should have looked more into.


If you are going to eat kale raw, I would highly suggest massaging it before. This will ensure that the leaves are easier to eat, softer, and tastier too! The reason that the taste is more delightful is because during the massage process, sugars within the leaves allowing he bitterness that is usually associated with kale to be balanced with sweetness. their bitter flavor with some sweetness.


Steps to massaging Kale:

So, here's how to give your greens a good rubdown: Be sure the kale is laying comfortably on a flat surface. Light some candles, set some quiet ambient music in the background...PSYCH. I am totally kidding. Just rip the leafy part of the kale off of the rib (discard the ribs), place the leaves in a large bowl, pour a couple glugs of olive oil on top, plus a pinch of salt, and gently knead the leaves for about 3-5 minutes, similar to how you would knead dough. Remember, though, that the goal is to just soften the leaves, so don't knead them to the point that they look like sautéed spinach, okay? If the idea of massaging your kale sounds like such a major drag you can't even deal, you can also just combine the raw kale leaves (ribs removed) with olive oil and a little squeeze of lemon, and let them soften overnight in the fridge.

To me, massaging kale sounds like it should be a totally Zen spa experience. Like, if kale had eyes, cucumber slices would most definitely be placed on them. And instead of olive oil, it’d be getting slathered in relaxing essential oils. Unfortunately, there’s no R&R for these greens. But, good news: Working out kale’s kinks doesn’t require nearly as much effort as your own.

“When making a kale salad, people always talk about ‘massaging’ the kale to tenderize it, but it’s not like giving someone a massage,” says chef Bruce Kalman, owner of BK Hospitality Group. “The method I use basically requires you to gently rub the kale leaves through both of your hands until you notice it beginning to soften up. It should take less than a minute. If you overwork it, it won’t have any sort of texture, and you really want your salad to be crisp, but not tough.”

While massaging kale is undoubtedly the most common and quickest method of breaking down those chewy fibers—especially when you’re doing so around the same time you want to eat!—Kalman has a different technique that you can use for big meal prep-worthy batches, which requires no massaging whatsoever. “Another method I really like is brining the kale leaves in cold, salted water,” he says. “You just need 1 1/2 gallons of cold, filtered water, 1/4 cup of kosher salt, and three bunches of Tuscan kale with the bottom two inches of the stems removed.”

Kalman says to start by grabbing a large plastic container that holds at least three gallons of volume and combine the water and salt using a wire whisk until the salt is completely dissolved. Then, submerge the kale in the water and cover with a towel to keep it submerged, allowing it to soak for 12 to 24 hours.

“After the time is up—24 hours is ideal—remove the kale from the water and gently shake the leaves to remove excess water, then place leaves on pans with cooling rack to allow the leaves to drain and dry, one to two hours,” he explains. “When the leaves are dry, chiffonade (finely shred) with a very sharp knife, or ceramic knife, so as not to bruise it.”

Welcome to Advice For Impatient Foodies, R29's new cooking column. Each week, our executive food editor and Impatient Foodie founder Elettra Wiedemann will tackle any and all questions you might have about food. Seriously, no query is too big or too small. And don't be embarrassed! We've all had moments in the kitchen when we had no idea WTF was going on and wished we could ask someone other than Google for some pointers. So whether you need help frying an egg, knowing when your chicken is done, or deciding what to make for dinner, we've got your back.

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So now if a recipe ever calls for you to 'massage' your kale, at lease you won't be too thrown off like maybe I would have been before discovering this simple magic!

Grumpiness and whining aside, I now know that massaging kale is an important step to take if you're planning on eating it raw. Without massaging the leaves beforehand, you'll end up chewing for a comical (or more likely annoying) amount of time, plus the kale will taste quite bitter. So the role of that massage is really two-fold: 1. To soften the leaves to make them more enjoyable and easier to eat. 2. To help release the sugars within the leaves to balance their bitter flavor with some sweetness. So, here's how to give your greens a good rubdown: Be sure the kale is laying comfortably on a flat surface. Light some candles, set some quiet ambient music in the background...PSYCH. I am totally kidding. Just rip the leafy part of the kale off of the rib (discard the ribs), place the leaves in a large bowl, pour a couple glugs of olive oil on top, plus a pinch of salt, and gently knead the leaves for about 3-5 minutes, similar to how you would knead dough. Remember, though, that the goal is to just soften the leaves, so don't knead them to the point that they look like sautéed spinach, okay? If the idea of massaging your kale sounds like such a major drag you can't even deal, you can also just combine the raw kale leaves (ribs removed) with olive oil and a little squeeze of lemon, and let them soften overnight in the fridge.

To me, massaging kale sounds like it should be a totally Zen spa experience. Like, if kale had eyes, cucumber slices would most definitely be placed on them. And instead of olive oil, it’d be getting slathered in relaxing essential oils. Unfortunately, there’s no R&R for these greens. But, good news: Working out kale’s kinks doesn’t require nearly as much effort as your own.

“When making a kale salad, people always talk about ‘massaging’ the kale to tenderize it, but it’s not like giving someone a massage,” says chef Bruce Kalman, owner of BK Hospitality Group. “The method I use basically requires you to gently rub the kale leaves through both of your hands until you notice it beginning to soften up. It should take less than a minute. If you overwork it, it won’t have any sort of texture, and you really want your salad to be crisp, but not tough.”

While massaging kale is undoubtedly the most common and quickest method of breaking down those chewy fibers—especially when you’re doing so around the same time you want to eat!—Kalman has a different technique that you can use for big meal prep-worthy batches, which requires no massaging whatsoever. “Another method I really like is brining the kale leaves in cold, salted water,” he says. “You just need 1 1/2 gallons of cold, filtered water, 1/4 cup of kosher salt, and three bunches of Tuscan kale with the bottom two inches of the stems removed.”

Kalman says to start by grabbing a large plastic container that holds at least three gallons of volume and combine the water and salt using a wire whisk until the salt is completely dissolved. Then, submerge the kale in the water and cover with a towel to keep it submerged, allowing it to soak for 12 to 24 hours.

“After the time is up—24 hours is ideal—remove the kale from the water and gently shake the leaves to remove excess water, then place leaves on pans with cooling rack to allow the leaves to drain and dry, one to two hours,” he explains. “When the leaves are dry, chiffonade (finely shred) with a very sharp knife, or ceramic knife, so as not to bruise it.”



Massaging kale is a common technique used in cooking to improve its texture and flavor. Here are several reasons why you should consider massaging kale before using it in salads or other dishes:

  1. Softens the leaves: Kale leaves can be quite tough and fibrous, making them difficult to chew and digest when raw. Massaging helps to break down the cell walls and softens the leaves, making them more tender and palatable.

  2. Reduces bitterness: Kale can have a slightly bitter taste, especially the older leaves. Massaging helps to mellow out the bitterness by breaking down compounds responsible for the bitter flavor.

  3. Enhances flavor absorption: Massaging kale with oil or dressing helps the leaves absorb the flavors more effectively. This makes your salad or dish more flavorful and enjoyable.

  4. Improves digestibility: Massaging kale not only softens the leaves but also makes it easier to digest. This can be especially helpful for individuals who may have difficulty digesting raw greens.

  5. Reduces volume: Kale leaves can be quite bulky, and massaging them can reduce their volume. This can make it easier to incorporate kale into salads and other dishes without it taking up too much space.

  6. Makes it more visually appealing: Massaged kale tends to look more vibrant and appealing compared to unmassaged kale, which can appear wilted and dull.

To massage kale, simply remove the tough stems, tear or chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces, and then rub them gently with your hands. You can also add a bit of oil, lemon juice, or salad dressing while massaging to further enhance the flavor and texture. After massaging, allow the kale to sit for a few minutes to further tenderize before incorporating it into your recipes.

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