Collard Greens 101 – The Basics
About Collard Greens
Collard greens are members of the Brassicaceae family of plants, along with their cousins, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi. Unlike some of their cousins, collards are loose leaf greens and do not form heads, like cabbage. Within the plant family, collards are most closely related to kale. That alone should give a good hint as to their nutritional value!
Collards are considered to be descendants of wild cabbage found in Europe over 2,000 years ago. Today, collards are enjoyed worldwide and are a staple part of many cuisines including that of the southeastern United States, and some parts of East Africa, South America, southern Europe, and south Asia.
Depending on the variety, collards can have a mild to somewhat strong flavor. Although collards may be eaten raw, such as in salads and wraps, the leave can be somewhat tough. If you prefer to enjoy them raw, look for younger, smaller options since they will be more tender. Because they are usually tough, most people cook their collards. Cooking ranges from being lightly steamed or sautéed to being boiled for an extended period of time to make them very tender.
Nutrition and Health Benefits Collard Greens
Collard greens are an excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin A (beta-carotene), manganese, Vitamin C, fiber, and calcium. They are also a very good source of Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6 and iron. Collards are a good source of Vitamin E, copper, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, Vitamin B5, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, niacin, Vitamin B1 and potassium. Furthermore, one cup of boiled collard greens contains 5 grams of protein.
Collard greens also contain important phytonutrients including caffeic and ferulic acid, flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol, and glucosinolates like glucobrassicin and glucoraphanin.
There has not been a lot of research studies conducted specifically on collard greens. However, collards have often been included in research with groups of vegetables in their family (such as cabbage, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables) that have been studied for their health benefits. The following are among the benefits found to be gained by eating collard greens and related cruciferous vegetables.
Cancer Prevention. Studies suggest that people who eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables have a lower risk of developing a variety of types of cancers including upper digestive tract, colorectal, breast, lung, prostate, and kidney cancers, and also possibly pancreatic and esophageal cancers, and melanoma.
Collard greens and other cruciferous vegetables supply powerful antioxidants (Vitamins C and E, and glucosinolates, along with phenols and polyphenols) that are known to support both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the detoxification process, so harmful compounds can be removed from the body.
Collard greens also have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin K is a direct regulator of the inflammatory response. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 fatty acid found in collards is a building block for one of the body’s widely-used anti-inflammatory messaging molecules. Furthermore glucobrassicin (in collard greens) has the ability to stop the inflammatory process in its early stages.
Chronic inflammation is known to increase our risk for cancer. So, eating collard greens and other cruciferous vegetables on a regular basis can certainly help to lower our risk for cancer.
Cardiovascular Support. Chronic inflammation directly damages blood vessels and blood components. In addition to protecting us from assorted cancers, the anti-inflammatory agents in collard greens and other cruciferous vegetables also help to protect our blood vessels from damage that can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Furthermore, the fiber in collard greens bind with bile in the intestinal tract, removing it from the system. This forces the body to use some of its existing cholesterol to make more bile. This, in turn, helps to reduce our blood cholesterol levels. Both raw and cooked collard greens have been shown to have this cholesterol-lowering effect. However, a recent study showed that this effect was increased when collards were steamed rather than eaten raw.
Collards are also rich in assorted B-vitamins which have been shown to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Digestive Support. One cup of collard greens has over 7 grams of fiber. That’s a significant amount of fiber that can benefit just about anyone! Furthermore, the sulforaphane made from the glucoraphanin in collards protects our stomach lining by preventing bacterial overgrowth or stomach wall adhesion of Helicobacter pylori bacterium. It is known that overgrowth of H. pylori causes chronic inflammation and increases the risk of gastric ulcers and cancer.
Bone Health. A low intake of Vitamin K increases the risk of developing osteoporosis and bone fracture. Vitamin K increases the absorption of calcium and may decrease the excretion of calcium. Collard greens are rich in both Vitamin K and calcium, making it a bone-protective vegetable to consume on a regular basis.
Healthy Skin and Hair. Collards are rich in nutrients that support healthy skin and hair. Vitamin A is crucial for the health of skin and all body tissues, including hair. Vitamin C is used in the formation and maintenance of collagen, a substance that provides structure to skin and hair. One cup of boiled collard greens provides almost half of our daily need for Vitamin C. Anemia is a common cause of hair loss. Collard greens are a good source of iron and can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia.
Use Caution When on Blood Thinners. If you take blood thinners like Coumadin or Warfarin, you should not suddenly increase your intake of Vitamin K-rich foods. Vitamin K can counteract the medications. Check with your health care provider before making major changes to your diet.
How to Select Collard Greens
Choose collard greens that have firm, fresh, unwilted leaves with a deep green color with no yellowing or browning. Smaller leaves will be more tender and have a milder flavor. They should be found in the refrigerated isle of the produce section in the grocery store.
How to Store Collard Greens
Do not wash your greens before storing them. There are two generally recommended ways to store collard greens. (1) Place your (unwashed) greens in a plastic bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible, seal the bag, and place it in the refrigerator. (2) Alternatively, you can wrap the greens in damp paper towels and place them in an OPEN plastic bag in the refrigerator. Note that if your greens are too large to fit in a plastic bag, simply cut them in half before storing them. Use your greens within 3 to 5 days.
Since greens contain a lot of water, if you simply place them in the refrigerator without wrapping them, they will wilt and dry out quickly.
How to Prepare Collard Greens
Simply remove your greens from their packaging and wash them in cool water. Chop the leaf portions into ½-inch slices and the stems into ¼-inch slices. This will allow the stems and leaves to cook within about the same time frame. Remove and discard any damaged pieces as you prepare the greens.
Tips for Removing Bitterness from Greens
1. Blanch them first before using them in a recipe. This works best with hardy greens such as collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, and kale. A lot of the bitterness will leach out in the blanching water. Discard the water then proceed with your recipe as usual.
- Pair the greens with strongly flavored ingredients. Bacon, sausage, garlic, something spicy or even sweet like roasted squash or dried fruit can counter the bitterness in greens by balancing it with another flavor.
- Add an acid. Vinegar or citrus juice (especially lemon juice) is well known for countering bitterness in greens. Drizzle the greens with the vinegar or juice at the end of cooking and lightly stir it in. The flavor of the whole dish will “brighten” and the bitterness will diminish.
- Add a bit of salt, or a salty ingredient. Added salt, or an added salty ingredient, will tame bitterness in many foods, including greens and radicchio. Anchovies, sausage, bacon, salted nuts, or even stock of choice will add some salt to the greens and help to reduce bitterness.
- Braise the greens. Slow braising helps to soften greens like collards, kale, mustard and turnip greens while removing bitterness.
How to Freeze Collard Greens
Freezing collard greens is not a hard process. Simply wash your greens well. Remove the stems and cut them into ¼-inch slices. Roll the leaves and cut them into ½-inch slices. Bring a pot of water to boil and place the prepared greens and stems in the boiling water. Set the timer immediately for 3 minutes. When the time is up, immediately transfer the greens to a bowl of ice water. Allow them to cool in the cold water for at least 3 minutes. Then drain them well and place your greens in a freezer bag or container. It is helpful to package the amount you would need for one meal in one container. Label them with the date and place them in the freezer. Use them within 12 months.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Collard Greens
* Try stuffing collard leaves like you would cabbage leaves (and make collard rolls).
* Make burritos using collard leaves instead of tortillas. Remove the stems and blanch the large leaves briefly to soften them. Pat them dry, stuff, then roll.
* Add steamed and chopped collard greens to the filling for sushi vegetable rolls.
* Enjoy raw young, tender collard greens in salads or in sandwiches or wraps.
* Use cooked collards in place of basil to make a pesto. First wash, then cut the collards up, removing the stems and coarse veins in the leaves. Reserve the stems for another use. Boil the leaf pieces for 10 to 15 minutes until they are tender. Drain them and place them in a bowl of cold water to chill them. Drain the leaves again and place them in a blender with your favorite pesto ingredients (such as garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne), and process until the mixture is smooth and thick. Store it in the refrigerator, but serve it at room temperature.
* If you’re used to boiling collards, try them braised or sautéed with some onion and garlic for something different. Top them with a drizzle of lemon juice and enjoy!
* Add collards to soups and casseroles.
* Try a slaw made with thinly sliced collards, shredded carrots, cabbage, and onion for vegetables. Dress it with a blend of olive oil, vinegar, mustard, parsley, a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything together and place it in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1 hour for flavors to blend. Enjoy!
* Overcooking collards can make them taste sulfur-like. If that happens, drizzle a little lemon juice or vinegar over them before serving. One or two tablespoons (at most) should do the trick.
* Collard green chips can be made like you would make kale chips. Wash the leaves and remove the stems. Toss the leaves with extra-virgin olive oil. Spread them on a tray and bake at 275F for 15 to 30 minutes, until crisp. Sprinkle with seasoning of choice. Suggestions include one or a combination of salt, cumin, curry powder, chili powder, roasted red pepper flakes, and/or garlic powder.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Collard Greens
Allspice, bay leaf, cardamom, chili pepper flakes, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry powder (and curry spices), dill, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, pepper (black), salt, turmeric
Foods That Go Well with Collard Greens
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, almond butter, bacon, beans (in general), beef, black-eyed peas, cashews, chicken, chickpeas, fish (seafood), ham, hazelnuts, lentils, peanuts, peanut butter, pine nuts, pork, sausage, seeds (esp. hemp, sesame), tempeh, tofu
Vegetables: Bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chiles, dulse, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, shallots, squash (winter and summer), sweet potatoes, tomatoes, vegetables (root), zucchini
Fruits: Apples (esp. cider and juice), avocado, citrus, coconut (butter, milk, water), lemon (esp. juice), olives, orange (esp. juice), raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, corn bread, farro, grains (in general), kamut, noodles, pasta, quinoa, rice, wheat berries
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese, coconut milk, cream, ghee, sour cream
Other Foods: Agave nectar, beer, chili pepper sauce, liquid smoke, maple syrup, mustard (Dijon), oil (esp. olive, sesame), soy sauce, stock (esp. vegetable), tamari, vinegar
Collard greens have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
African cuisines, collard wraps, corn bread, Egyptian cuisine, Ethiopian cuisine, Indian cuisine, Jamaican cuisine, pasta dishes, smoky-flavored foods, soups, South American cuisines, Southern U.S. cuisine, Spanish cuisine, stews, stuffed collard greens, sushi rolls (vegetarian)
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Collard Greens
Combine collard greens with any of the following combinations…
Apple cider vinegar + black-eye peas
Apple cider vinegar + chili flakes + garlic
Chiles + garlic + lemon + olive oil
Citrus + raisins
Garlic + lemon
Garlic + olive oil + tamari
Garlic + tomatoes
Lemon juice + olive oil + rice
Rice vinegar + sesame oil + sesame seeds + soy sauce
Tomatoes + zucchini
Southern Style Collard Greens https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/235931/southern-style-collard-greens/
Collards Stuffed with Red Bean and Rice https://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2010/04/collards-stuffed-with-red-beans-and.html
Collard Green Wraps https://www.loveandlemons.com/collard-green-wraps/
How to Make Rich and Smoky Collard Greens, With or Without Meat https://www.seriouseats.com/2017/03/how-to-make-collards-greens-pork-ham-vegan.html
Easy Vegan Dirty Rice and Collard Greens https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-vegan-collard-greens-with-rice-3377827
Vegan Collard Greens https://simple-veganista.com/collard-greens-cannellini-beans/#tasty-recipes-8784
Quick Collard Greens https://cookieandkate.com/quick-collard-greens-recipe/#tasty-recipes-32984
Vegetarian “Southern Style” Collard Greens https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/vegetarian-southern-style-collard-greens-recipe-1938261
Healthy Collard Greens https://skinnyms.com/healthy-collard-greens-5/
Poached Eggs Over Collard Greens and Shiitake Mushrooms http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=108
Pinto Beans with Collard Greens http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=216
5-Minute “Quick Steamed” Collard Greens http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=323
Zesty Mexican Soup http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=30
Kickin’ Collard Greens https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/51803/kickin-collard-greens/
Hoppin’ John Risotto with Collard Pesto https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-hoppin-john-risotto-with-collard-pesto-recipes-from-the-kitchn-182045
Pasta with Collard Greens and Onions https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12465-pasta-with-collard-greens-and-onions
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. (1993) So Easy to Preserve. 3rd ed. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.
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