Baby Kale vs. Kale: 6 Key Differences

Published: March 24, 2023
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Most people who are into healthy living and eating know about kale. It is very commonly used in salads and other dishes with lots of greens. Kale is popular because it is highly nutritious without adding many calories to your meal.

If you’ve ever heard of baby kale, you might want to know exactly how it differs from regular kale. The answer might surprise you. Keep reading to learn more about the six key differences between baby kale vs kale!

Baby KaleKale
AgeHarvested after about 30 days.Harvested after 50 to 65 days.
AppearanceLeaves with stems are usually a few inches long.Leaves can be up to 18 inches long.
TextureSomewhat hardy compared to other greens but still more tender than more mature kale.Tough overall with curly edges.
NutritionRich in vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and folate. Possibly more nutritious than mature kale (though this is inconclusive).Rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and folate.
FlavorSomewhat bitter and peppery, although milder and sweeter than the flavor of mature kale.Signature bitter, peppery flavor.
PreparationShould be cooked for shorter times compared to mature kale, should not be massaged, can easily be eaten raw, and can be used in salads (although not as the base ingredient).Needs to be cooked for longer times than baby kale does and should be massaged with salt and acid if eaten raw.

Baby Kale vs. Kale: Key Differences

baby kale salad leaves
Baby kale leaves have a somewhat peppery flavor, similar to arugula.


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Essentially, baby kale is just kale at an earlier life stage. This means that when kale is grown, it needs to be harvested earlier in order to be consumed as baby kale.

On average, it takes about 30 days to grow baby kale and 50 to 65 days to grow the leaves into mature kale.

Baby Kale vs. Kale: Appearance

Both baby and mature kale leaves are hardier than the leaves of other greens. However, baby kale leaves are significantly smaller and thinner than mature kale leaves. While baby kale leaves and stems are typically no more than a few inches long, mature kale leaves can be up to 18 inches long.

Baby Kale vs. Kale: Texture

When most people talk about mature kale, they’re talking about curly kale. The leaves are fairly tough compared to other varieties. The leaves of baby kale, in contrast, are very tender. However, even baby kale leaves are typically still hardier than most varieties of lettuce.

Baby Kale vs. Kale: Nutrition

Close up of a curly kale plant in a vegetable garden.
Mature kale leaves can be up to 18 inches long.


All leafy greens, including kale, a wonderful sources of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and folate. But is one more nutritious than the other?

Studies done to answer this question have been somewhat inconclusive. Scientists have done very few studies on this topic. Some research has suggested that baby spinach is richer in nutrients and flavonoids (disease-fighting compounds) than mature spinach, suggesting that the same may be true of baby kale and mature kale.

However, scientists also believe that any differences in nutrient content might have more to do with growth, harvest, and storage conditions than the age of the plant before harvest.

Baby Kale vs. Kale: Flavor

Baby kale leaves have a somewhat peppery flavor, similar to arugula. They are known for their succulent texture while still being chewy.

The flavor of mature kale leaves is similar to that of baby kale, although more bitter and intense.

Baby Kale vs. Kale: Preparation

Purple kale and Swiss chard
Purple kale and Swiss chard.


Kale leaves are more tender at the younger stages, meaning baby kale is more tender than mature kale. It’s generally advised to cook it less than mature kale. In fact, many would advise you not to cook it at all and only use it in raw salads.

Because mature curly kale is so tough, if you decide to eat these leaves raw, it’s advised that you massage them with a bit of salt and acid (typically vinegar or lemon juice). In contrast, you should not massage baby kale at all unless you want to end up with green mush on your hands.

Some foodies will also tell you not to use baby kale as the base ingredient in a salad. They would advise that you just use it as a supplement to add the other greens and salads. This way, you get the nutrients and flavor of kale without these tender leaves dominating your salad completely.

Background Information on Kale

Originally, kale came from Asia Minor (part of present-day Turkey) and the eastern part of the Mediterranean. In these areas, people cultivated it for over 4,000 years. The scientific name of this plant is Brassica oleriaceae var.

Typically, the leaves are 18 inches long, with the plant growing to be up to two to three feet tall. The leaves have a waxy coating, typically purple or grayish-green in color. They typically grow off of the stalk at 45° angles.

Kale can grow in many different types of soil. However, optimal growth will occur in fertile and well-drained soils in sunny environments. Kale plants flower in the spring, although people do not typically eat these flowers. In order to flower, the plant must have survived the entire winter without freezing to death.

These plants go through a series of frosts that affect their final flavor. These frosts convert the starches in the plants to sugars, giving kale somewhat of a sweet flavor. This is also why people should not store kale in their refrigerators for too long, as prolonged exposure to this cold temperature will significantly change the flavor.

What Animals Eat Kale?

Aside from humans, who eat kale prepared in various ways, many animals also eat these plants. Anyone who grows kale knows that groundhogs, deer, and rabbits will munch on these plants. Slugs, snails, cabbageworms, and harlequin bugs are other known pests for kale gardeners.

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