Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus) is a perennial thistle native to the Mediterranean around the southern Europe. The tree grows to about 1.4 metres to 2 metres tall with arching deeply lobbed silvery glaucous green leaves. The name of the artichoke in many European languages came from the Arabic al-kharshuf (approximate spelling). The Arabic term Ardi-Shoki which means “ground thorny” is a folk etymology of the English name.
The flowers of the artichoke tree develop in a large head from an edible bud about 8 centimetres (3.1 in) to 15 centimetres (5.9 in) diameter with numerous triangular scales; the individual florets are purple. The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the involucral bracts and the base, known as the “heart”; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the “choke” or beard. These are inedible in older larger flowers. The Globe Artichoke is also an attractive plant for its bright floral display, sometimes grown in herbaceous borders for its bold foliage and large purple flower heads.
The “vegetable” that we eat is actually the plant’s flower bud. If allowed to flower, the blossoms measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a beautiful violet-blue color. They are available twelve months a year with the peak season in the spring and fall. There are more than 140 artichoke varieties but less than 40 are grown commercially. Today most artichokes grown worldwide are cultivated in France, Italy, and Spain, while California provides nearly 100 percent of the United States crop. One hundred percent of all artichokes grown commercially in the United States are grown in California.
Artichoke fields are maintained in perennial culture for five to ten years. The cardoon, a naturally occurring variant of the same species, is native to the South Mediterranean, even though it has not been mentioned in extant Classic literature. Artichokes were cultivated in Sicily during the Greek occupation, the Greeks called them kaktos. In this period the leaves and flower heads, which cultivation had already improved from the wild form, were eaten. The Romans, who called the vegetable carduus received the plant from the Greeks.
Today, Globe Artichoke cultivation is concentrated in the countries bordering the Mediterranean basin. The main producers are Italy, Spain, and France. In the United States, California provides nearly 100% of the U.S. crop, and approximately 80 percent of that is grown in Monterey County; there, Castroville proclaims itself to be “The Artichoke Center of the World”, and holds an annual artichoke festival. The peak season for artichoke harvesting is the spring, but they continue to be harvested throughout the summer, with another peak period in mid autumn. In the year 1530 at Newhall the Dutch introduced artichokes to England, where they grew them in Henry VIII’s garden. They were brought to the United States in the 19th century, to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by Spanish immigrants.
Artichokes are a gift to the health conscious and especially to the dieters as they are free of fat, saturated fat and free of cholesterol. The gorgeous artichokes are low in sodium and low in calories. They are excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, folate and magnesium. Inclusion of artichokes in your diet plan would be an excellent option as they are non starchy vegetables and contain all vital nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. They contain only few calories and carbohydrates and is one of the best diet meal for diabetic patients.
In the US, large globe artichokes are most frequently prepared for cooking by removing all but 5 millimetres (0.20 in) to 10 millimetres (0.39 in) or so of the stem, and (optionally) cutting away about a quarter of each scale with scissors. This removes the thorns on some varieties that can interfere with handling the leaves when eating. Then, the artichoke is boiled or steamed until tender. If boiling, salt can be added to the water, if desired. It may be preferable not to cover the pot while the artichokes are boiled, so that the acids will boil out into the air. Covered and particularly cut artichokes can turn brown due to the acids and chlorophyll oxidation. If not cooked immediately, place them in water lightly acidulated with vinegar or lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
The leaves of artichokes are often removes one at a time and the fleshy base part eaten, sometimes dipped in hollandaise, vinegar, butter, mayonnaise, aioli, lemon juice or other sauces, the fibrous upper part of each leaf being discarded; the heart is then eaten when the inedible choke has been discarded after being carefully peeled away from the base. The thin leaves covering the choke are mostly edible.
In Italy, artichoke hearts in oil are the usual vegetable for spring in the ‘Four Seasons’ pizza (with olives for summer, mushrooms for autumn and prosciutto for winter). In Spain, the more tender younger and smaller artichokes are used. They can be sprinkled with olive oil and left in hot ashes in a barbecue, sautéed in olive oil with garlic, with rice as a paella or sautéed and combined with eggs in a tortilla (frittata). Artichokes are also used in making herbal tea; artichoke tea is produced as a commercial product in the Da Lat region of Vietnam. Artichoke is the primary flavor of the Italian liqueur Cynar.
Another variety is the Chinese artichoke botanically known as stachys sieboldii, a member of the Lamiaceae family commonly known as mint. It is the small tuber of a perennial garden plant that is shaped like a maggot and is about the size of a hazelnut. This vegetable has a sweet, slightly nutty flavor that is similar to salsify. The plants are about a foot to 17 inches tall and have lilac colored flowers. In China they are often known as chorogi and are pickled in vinegar or brine as this vegetable gets perishable and tends to dry out and lose its flavor in few days. Chinese artichoke does not need to be peeled. They can be scrubbed or, more easily, place them in a zip lock bag with salt and shake the bag to remove the skin. Rinse them with water to remove dirt.
They can be cooked in much the same way as potatoes or Jerusalem artichoke; boiled, fried, stir-fried, steamed, roasted, braised or sautéed. One of the most popular ways to serve them is to simply blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes, after which, sauté and add butter or extra virgin olive oil. A flavorsome addition to any meal, artichokes take time to prepare, but it’s worth the effort while the globe artichoke is a flower with several layers – green outer petals, purple inner petals, a hairy, inedible ‘choke’ and a tender heart. The edible parts are the heart, stem centre and base of the petals. The heart is also available canned in brine or marinated in oil.
Artichokes are a rich source of soluble fibre, which helps maintain blood glucose levels and bowel health. They’re also high in vitamin K, vitamin C and folate. The total antioxidant capacity of artichoke flower heads is one of the highest reported for vegetables. This diuretic vegetable is of nutritional value because of its exhibiting aid to digestion, strengthening of the liver function, gall bladder function, and raising of HDL/LDL ratio. This reduces cholesterol levels, which diminishes the risk for arteriosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
The nutritional values per 100 g of cooked boiled and salted artichoke are:
Energy: 220 kJ (53 kcal)
Carbohydrates: 10.51 g
Sugars: 0.99 g
Dietary fiber: 5.4 g
Fat: 0.34 g
Protein: 2.89 g
Folate (Vit. B9): 89 μg
Vitamin C: 7.4 mg
Calcium: 21 mg
Iron: 0.61 mg
Magnesium: 42 mg
Phosphorus: 73 mg
Potassium: 276 mg
Zinc: 0.4 mg