Highland Kale Is a Versatile Mustard Green from Ethiopia


| 1/23/2015 9:22:00 AM


Tags: seeds, kale, Fred Hempel, California,

A few years ago our collaborator, Menkir Tamrat, introduced us to a number of Ethiopian peppers and mustards. One of the mustards he brought to us – Highland Kale — turned out to be particularly captivating. Since then, we have increasingly ramped up production of this “blue” mustard, and it has become a mainstay of our winter and spring crops.

Highland Kale or Gomenzer

An Incredible Mustard: New Uses and a New Name

In Ethiopia, “Highland Kale” is known as Gomenzer, and the seeds are typically used for their cooking oils. Indeed, in many cases another, more collard-like, green called Gomen is preferred by Ethiopian chefs. However, we were initially struck by the smooth, full flavor of Gomenzer, and also its tenderness and lack of bitterness. It is a versatile green that can be eaten fresh, and mixed into salads, or cooked in oil with garlic. We also use it in soups, often adding it last, so that it retains much of its texture.

When we took samples of this versatile green to chefs, and other friends, the response was overwhelmingly positive. With no commercial seed source available, we started to harvest seed, for ourselves and others.

When it came time to start selling Gomenzer through our primary wholesale customer – San Francisco Specialty Produce – we needed a “common” name that could be used to convey the essence of the product. What we came up with was “Highland Kale”. Although Gomenzer is strictly-speaking a “mustard” we used “kale” because the color and flavor is very reminiscent of Tuscan Kale, albeit  softer and milder.  The “Highland” part of the name refers to the origins of Gomenzer in the cool highlands of Ethiopia. Other names for Gomenzer (Brassica carinata) are Ethiopian Blue Mustard and Ethiopian Kale. 

Growing Highland Kale

Highland Kale seeds germinate and grow quickly, and thus it competes well with weeds.  For this reason, we use Highland Kale as part of our winter cover crop, and we also grow it in rows that are seeded by hand. We typically sell the shoot “tops” that are similar to Broccoli Raab tops (but much better tasting, as far as we are concerned). The Highland Kale tops are more leafy than Broccoli Raab tops. It is nice that, when the tops of the plants are removed, lower secondary shoots provide us with 2nd and 3rd cuttings off of the same rows. Thus it is important to not cut all the way to the ground when harvesting. Allowing regrowth can be very important, particularly when trying to get a financial return on this crop.




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