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Eat Well Mar. 22. 2013

Massaged Kale Salad

Mar. 22. 2013
McKel Hill

McKel Hill

MS, RDN, LDN, Dietitian

Meet my favorite way to eat raw kale–the Massaged Kale Salad. I bet that title caught your attention! In my previous post, I shared the concept of batch cooking and mentioned a couple of my staple batch cooking items, one of them being a massaged kale salad. Massaged Kale Salad is one of my weekly, if not daily, go-to salad recipes. It’s full of fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants and is incredibly satisfying from the king green itself, kale. This recipe is super simple, made from only very few clean ingredients. What do I mean by massaged? Well, the kale is massaged! Keep reading to find out what I’m talking about.

Massage…kale? Yes, massage kale!

Why massage kale? Kale is a fantastic leafy green because of its texture which lends to a wide variety of ways to work with this green. Kale is great for steaming, sauteing, adding it to soups or stews for a more hearty mouthfeel, adding it finely chopped to a salad, or of course enjoying it blended in a green smoothie. Basically, massaging is a process of physically breaking down the kale to make it easier to digest. Think of it in this way – digestion starts in your mouth, and kale has a very rough texture which takes a lot of mastication (aka chewing) on our parts before we can swallow it. Massaging prior to eating is like pre-digesting the kale. So give your kale some love. Go ahead and massage away! Your jaws and tummy will thank you.

The kale will visually change before your eyes while massaging. It will start to wilt which is due to the cellulose (plant fibrous structure that holds it together). It will become more vibrant green and softer in texture as well. Because of it’s tough nature, another wonderful quality of kale is that it will stay in the refrigerator for a good week even after massaging. Unlike other more delicate leafy greens which tend to wilt and become soggy after chopping or physically “breaking” down, kale will keep it’s soft but chewy texture without becoming mushy or too soft.

So why do I think kale is king of the greens? Kale touts antioxidants, anti-inflammatory benefits, cancer protective compounds, cholesterol lowering properties, flavonoids which ward off inflammation and oxidative stress and support the body’s detoxification system. The ability of kale to lower cholesterol is due to its source(s) of fiber – when steamed, the fiber can actually bind to the bile acids which are then excreted from the body. Kale is part of the cruciferous vegetable family which has been studied in relation to their protective compounds in cancer development (colon, breast, bladder, prostate, and ovarian) mainly from the anti-cancer nutrients glucosinolates (say what?).

Taking you to a quick organic chemistry lesson here, glucosinolates are basically a chemical compound containing sulfur and nitrogen. It’s easy to relate this compound to the cruciferous veggie family, as most have a sulfur smell which is also responsible for the bitter taste you get when you eat broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts (my fave). Isothiocyanates (ITC) made from glucosolantes also kick start Phase I and Phase II enzymes, which are needed for detoxification, hence the advantage of cruciferous vegetables like kale in the role of detoxification. Okay, enough of the chemistry lesson…

Nutrition breakdown of KALE:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6
  • Folate
  • Manganese
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Carotenoids | Beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin
  • Flavonoids | Quercitin, kaempferol
  • Fatty acids
    • Omega-3 fatty acids |linolenic acid (0.18g/100g)
    • Omega-6 fatty acids |linoleic acid (0.13g/100g)
  • Fiber

Added bonus: kale helps keep your thyroid healthy. When eaten in very large quantities and in their raw form, cruciferous veggies like kale may impair thyroid function. If you’re someone who suffers from thyroid disfunction or hypothyroidism, it’s best to keep the cruciferous veggies limited in your diet when they’re in their raw state (aka uncooked). You can, however, cook or steam to inhibit the thyroid compound found in kale that may interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis, which is very important for the overall health and function of your thyroid! People who have no issues with their thyroid should still play it safe with limiting such large quantities (I’m talking in smoothies, juices, salads, and in snacks all day, every day), but most healthy individuals are perfectly fine to munch on cruciferous veggies throughout the day!

This kale salad is hands down, a staple in my kitchen. I have it almost every day in some form or another, whether incorporated into my breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Most of the time I enjoy this as the base of a salad, but if you’re new to kale simply try adding a handful into your other favorite mixed greens to boost the nutrient content and then gradually have this salad as the base to add upon. I typically will make a large batch of kale salad to last me a good week and it keeps very well in a large airtight glass container!


Massaged Kale Salad
Recipe Type: Small plates
Cuisine: Salad
Author: McKel Hill, MS, RD, LDN
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1
Super simple and nutrient dense kale salad.
  • 2 heavy handfuls (2-3 cups) of organic raw kale leaves (I prefer the lacinato a.k.a. “dino” variety)
  • 1 tsp. of olive oil (I’ve use truffle oil occasionally and it is AMAZING)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tsp. of Celtic sea salt
  1. De-stem the kale leaves from the stem by simply placing your index finger and middle finger (in the shape of a claw), and “claw” down the center of the leaf to de-stem while simultaneously pulling the leaf away from you with your other hand.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the de-stemmed kale leaves with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Lightly pour an additional 1 tsp. of olive oil onto your hands to coat.
  4. Using a massaging action (similar to kneading bread dough), start to tear the leaves apart and massage.
  5. Continue massaging for about 2-5 minutes or until the leaves are softened, the leaves will also turn a more vibrant green.
  6. Use this as a salad base or add toppings of your choice for a complete meal in a bowl.

You may also like this post for some added inspiration: Massaged Kale Salad, Three Ways

Yes or no to massaged kale?

Have you tried kale in this way? What’s your favorite recipe or way to get kale into your diet? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear!

Now get to massaging ladies and gents!


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  • Kale is totally my favorite green too. I like chard and I’ll eat spinach if I have to, but kale–oh, I just can’t get enough of it! Massaging it is definitely the way to go–love this salad!

  • alison

    hi – i just planted some kale in our veggie patch and am looking forward to eating it – checking out lots of ideas and your massaged kale salad is a great start. how does kale respond to a quick pulse in the food processor? is that another way of “massaging” it? 🙂 thanks.

    • Hi Allison, wonderful! Great question, lightly pulsing in the food processor will help break down the kale, but I would still suggest after doing that to lightly “massage” in the lemon, olive oil, and sea salt. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Megan

    I tried this with my salad today at lunch and was stunned at how delicious it tasted! Thank you for such an easy recipe, I am in love with your website!

    • Hi Megan! Isn’t it amazing? I love adding it into all salads to boost the nutrient content. Thanks so much for sharing and stopping by 🙂

  • I’m loving your website!!! So glad I found it, everything looks so clean and wholesome!
    I also made a Kale salad on my blog so it would be great if you could check it out – thanks 🙂

    • Hi Millie,
      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad you’ve stopped by and hope you come back often 🙂 Great blog

  • Greer

    How long does this salad last in the fridge??
    Love batch cooking…fun to plan

    • Mine typically lasts 5-7 days max. before I eat it all! Just keep the dressing off of it until serving. Hope you enjoy:)

  • Lisa

    I have hypothyroidism that began with the onset of menopause. I LOVE massaged kale salad. My question regards your reference above that massaging does help with pre-digestion of kale. Does massaging in any way inhibit the thyroid compound found in kale that may interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis like lightly steaming or cooking kale does? I simply prefer kale massaged over steaming or cooking, but I do like it just about anyway. I have quit juicing it though. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

    • Only cooking will decrease the goitrogens found in cruciferous vegetables and others that contain them- massaging will not! Great question 🙂

      • Lisa

        Thanks! I was always curious if body temperature from your fingers while massaging the kale affected the goitrogens since the kale is wilted after the “massage”. Now I know!

  • I LOVE massaged kale. I worked at an organic bakery this past year that used cumin and liquid aminos along with the olive oil and lemon. I make it weekly still:)

  • Roisin

    One teaspoon of salt for only 4-5 cups of kale? Isn’t that incredibly salty?

    • Not at all, it’s great with the lemon and olive oil and salt acts as something to break down the kale. As I say with all my recipes, always adjust seasonings and ingredients to YOUR taste 😉

  • Carol

    I don’t have a thyroid and take a synthetic pill. Do I need to limit the cruciferous veggies?

  • Sarah

    This is great! We’ve been getting kale from our CSA and I’ve been looking for new ways to eat it! This is delicious! Going over to check out your other massaged kale salad recipes! <3

    • McKel Hill

      This is my go-to with kale, hope you love it Sarah!

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