Changes in Kale (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala) Carotenoid and Chlorophyll Pigment Concentrations during Leaf Ontogeny

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There has been recent market interest in “baby” salad greens. However, little information exists on the nutritional differences between immature “baby” greens and produce traditionally sold at the fully mature stage. Kale (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala D.C.) contains high levels of lutein and β-carotene, which possess important human health properties. Kale was grown in a controlled environment and pigments were measured in young (<1 week), immature (1–2 weeks), mature (2–3 weeks), fully developed (3–4 weeks) and senescing (>4 weeks) leaves using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Significant differences were observed for all pigments during leaf development. Pigment accumulation followed a quadratic trend, with maximums occurring between the 1st and 3rd week of leaf age. The highest concentrations of lutein measured 15.1 mg/100 g fresh mass and occurred in 1–2 week old leaves. The remaining pigments reached maximum levels at 2–3 weeks (β-carotene at 11.6 mg/100 g; chlorophyll a at 251.4 mg/100 g; and chlorophyll b at 56.9 mg/100 g fresh mass). Mature fully expanded kale leaves accumulated higher carotenoid concentrations than immature or “baby” leaves, with senescent leaves having the lowest carotenoid concentrations. Harvesting kale leaves at a mature stage of development resulted in maximum carotenoid values. Cultural management practices that increase carotenoid concentrations would be expected to improve nutritional quality for fresh markets.

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