Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Recent History: Crispy Kale

I have fallen in love with kale chips. Their recent history calls up a celebrity chef, the raw food movement, and the blogosphere, and raises a question in my mind about what constitutes an historical trend.

We grow a fair amount of kale in our garden, more than a small household can profitably use so I was delighted to acquire the directions for making kale chips. You can see the recipe by reading my newspaper column for this week here.

Of course, I wondered where the idea came from, how long it has been around, and how it has been disseminated. I encountered kale chips only this past summer via word of mouth from a neighbor who described her method to me. Then this past weekend I ate some in a restaurant that specializes in using local seasonal foods, and with the weather increasingly cold outside here in Maine, kale is one of the last things still in the garden for fresh picking.

Now mind you, I spent all of a half hour poking around on the web to learn about kale chips. The earliest date I found for a mention of them was February 2, 2005 at food.com where the raw food site radicalhealth.com was cited. Further exploration found the method attributed to the celebrity chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill fame in New York.

More mentions about crispy kale or kale chips come up in 2009 and 2010. So the idea and the directions have been around at least five years. Googling crispy kale, however, connects one to lots of food blogs where the bloggers offer advice, luscious close-up pictures, and praise.

I wouldn't call crispy kale a raw food because one bakes it. While there was a flurry of activity with raw food a few years back, even "cook" books, and the occasional raw food restaurant start up, I do not observe a vigorous trend of raw food becoming mainstream.

I doubt crispy kale will ever be mainstream fare either until someone figures out how to produce it commercially. Other increasingly mainstream trends, however, like trickle down chef cookery, and the power, or at least ubiquity, of food blogs certainly are revealed with the current interest in crispy kale.

Two genuine historical trends, in my opinion, are increasing vegetarianism, which has a few centuries of history behind it, and growing interest in local foods which, at least here in Maine, has three decades of back story. Perhaps, the word trend is the bug-bear here. For a food historian, much of what is passed off these days as trends are blips on the radar of time.


  1. Hard to believe it hasn't been longer than that! I wish I had time to go through back issues of "Vegetarian Times", Mother Earth News", et cetera; surely something would turn up.

    There is a rival 2005 candidate, Theresa Albert's "Cook Once a Week, Eat Well Every Day"; see page 57:


    With the lead time to publication, it might have a claim as earlier than the food.com mention!

    But I suspect there must be something from the last millenium, from the "back to the landers" or macrobiotic types...


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  3. In California, there are several companies that are selling kale chips on a commercial basis for at least the last couple of years. They are so expensive though.

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