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What is a superfood?

Oranges, green apples, carrots, ginger and kale, are displayed before juicing at the Silver Lake Juice Bar in Los Angeles, California.

We think we know what superfoods are. Nutrient-rich, high in vitamins, they're fruits and vegetables with extra oomph that seem to have benefits beyond plain healthy eating.

In a recent Nielsen survey commissioned by Bloomberg Businessweek, 75 percent of consumers said they can manage their health through nutrition. One third say that they can use food to replace some medicines.

Farmers are seeing this trend and turning over crops to accomodate demand for once-unappealing wintry vegetables.

"I know we are not supposed to speak of kale on this show," said Venessa Wong, who reported on the findings for Businessweek. But she did anyway (listen in the audio player above), because its growth has been explosive.

"In 2012, about 2,500 farms harvested 'the k-word,' which is up from fewer than 1,000 in 2007," Wong said, adding, "Farmers are indeed very in touch with what people want to eat right now."

And far and away, 'the k-word' is the thing that people want to eat. But Brussel sprouts, spinach, chard and arugula are also showing a 10-20 percent boost since 2009.

With marketing buzz galore and significant public interest, the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease tried to define superfoods.

The produce selected may surprise you: tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, oranges, even iceberg lettuce. Wong notes that there are good reasons for their inclusion, but on a scale of defining a superfood, less trendy veggies stand out.

"The most nutrition dense food are watercress, Chinese cabbage, beet greens, spinach, so things that don't get as much buzz as the pomegranates, the quinoas," Wong said.

And the fact that the most super of foods aren't among the supermarket bestsellers is hardly a surprise.

"As much as people believe in the power of food," Wong said, "half of people surveyed by Nielsen said that they weren't willing to give up taste for health."


Kai's K-Word Chips

(1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

(2) Trim kale and toss with olive oil.

(3) Bake until crispy.

(4) Season with salt to taste.

(5) Eat 'em while they're hot.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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