Skip to main content
Video

For Kale That Tastes Better—Not Bitter—Rinse it Twice

Washing your leaves before and after prepping them makes all the difference.
By Published Jan. 13, 2023

As far as greens go, kale gets a bad rap. It’s hearty and tough, for one, but it also boasts a bittersweet pungency that some find off-putting. 

In cooked applications (like our Roasted Kale with Garlic, Red Pepper Flakes, and Lemon) that assertive flavor is no big deal—kale’s flavor mellows significantly with cooking. But what about raw applications like salads? Even if you’re a fan of kale's flavor, salads often require extra dressing to balance out the bitterness.

Luckily, there’s an easy, no-cook way to decrease kale’s pungency: rinsing it before and after cutting it. 

Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter

The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.

How Rinsing Twice Leads to Tastier Kale

Much like in onions and garlic, kale’s bitterness is only formed when the vegetable is sliced, chopped, massaged, or chewed. 

When cells in a leaf of kale are intact, an enzyme called myrosinase and sulfur-containing compound glucosinolate are separated from one another. 

When cells are damaged, the myrosinase and glucosinolate interact and create isothiocyanates, the compounds responsible for kale's pungency. 

I’m going to guess that when you prep kale, you rinse the leaves to get rid of any dirt and then cut them to the desired size. But you should rinse after prepping too.

All of your prep leads to the creation of pungent isothiocyanates. By rinsing after prepping, you can remove some of the isothiocyanates for milder kale leaves that need less dressing to taste good.

How to Make Kale More Tender

Once you’ve tamed its flavor, there’s just one more step to get your kale salad-ready: tenderizing the hearty leaves. For this, you have three options. 

Massaging

The technique that has gotten the most attention and suffered the most teasing and ridicule is massaging. But the technique is easy and effective: Simply grab handfuls of kale leaves and physically break down the leaf’s structure. 

Soaking

Letting stemmed and cut kale soak in a bath of hot tap water (about 112 degrees) for about 10 minutes helps the leaves wilt slightly, creating a tender yet still crunchy texture. 

Think of the hot water as a very mild form of blanching. The elevated temperature speeds up enzymes that break down cell walls. (The enzyme in question, polygalacturonase, also breaks down cell walls in fruits like tomatoes as they ripen.)

Resting

Your third option is to let the kale rest. 

Dressing kale leaves with salad dressing and refrigerating them for at least 20 minutes (or up to overnight), has a softening effect. The oil in the dressing “wets” the waxy, water-repelling surface of the kale leaves, which causes them to soften.

For even more tender leaves, try combining these techniques. 

And to learn more about kale, watch the latest episode of What’s Eating Dan? below. 

0 Comments

Try All-Access Membership to Unlock the Comments
Don't miss the conversation. Our test cooks and editors jump in to answer your questions, and our members are curious, opinionated, and respectful.
Membership includes instant access to everything on our sites:
  • 10,000+ foolproof recipes and why they work
  • Taste Tests of supermarket ingredients
  • Equipment Reviews save you money and time
  • Videos including full episodes and clips
  • Live Q&A with Test Kitchen experts
Start Free Trial
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.