Artichoke is one of the popular winter months edible flower bud of Mediterranean origin. Known as "Ankinara" in Greek, its use as a vegetable is well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans who advocated it for its medicinal and health benefiting qualities. Botanically, it belongs within the thistle family (Asteraceae), in the genus: Cynara. Scientific name: Cyanara scolymus.
Globe artichoke grows up to 1.5-2 m tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery-green leaves about 0.5 m long. If left alone, beautiful light pink, or purple flowers develop forming a large head from the edible buds. The bud is composed of compactly arranged triangular scales in a whorl-fashion around a central "choke."
|Artichoke buds and stems
(Photo courtesy: norwichnuts)
Each artichoke globe measures about 6-10 cm in diameter and weighs about 150 g. Fuzzy; immature florets at the centre of the bud constitute its "choke." These are inedible in older, and larger flowers. Edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the involucre bracts (triangular scales) and the base, known as the "heart."
Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) are closely related species to artichokes. However, unlike in artichokes where their flower buds are eaten, the blanched leafy-stalks are the edible portions in cardoons.
Several cultivars of artichoke grown and categorized based upon size, color, and spine.
Green color, big size,
Green color, medium size,
purple color, big size,
Purple color, medium size,
Artichoke is low in calories and fat; 100 g of this flower bud just carries 47 calories. Nonetheless, it is a rich source of dietary fiber and anti-oxidants. It provides 5.4 g per 100 g, about 14% of RDA fiber. Dietary-fiber helps control constipation conditions, decreases bad or "LDL" cholesterol levels by binding to it in the intestines and help cut down colon cancer risks by preventing toxic compounds in the food from absorption.
Artichoke contains bitter principles, cynarin and sesquiterpene-lactones. Scientific studies show that these compounds not just inhibit cholesterol synthesis but also increase its excretion in the bile, and thus, help overall reduction in the total cholesterol levels in the blood.
Fresh artichoke is an excellent source of vitamin, folic acid; provides about 68 µg per 100 g (17% of recommended daily allowance). Folic acid acts as a co-factor for enzymes involved in the synthesis of DNA. Scientific studies have proven that adequate levels of folates in the diet during pre-conception period, and during early pregnancy may help prevent neural tube defects in the newborn baby.
Fresh globes also contain moderate amounts of anti-oxidant vitamin; vitamin-C (Provides about 20% of recommended levels per 100 g). Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
It is one of the very good vegetable sources for vitamin K; provide about 12% of DRI. Vitamin K has potential role bone health by promoting osteotrophic (bone formation) activity. Adequate vitamin-K levels in the diet help limiting neuronal damage in the brain; thus, has established role in the treatment of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
It is an also a good source of antioxidant compounds such as silymarin, caffeic acid, and ferulic acid, which help the body protect from harmful free-radical agents. Total antioxidant strength (ORAC) of artichokes (globe or french) is 6552 µmol TE/100 g.
It is also rich in B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid that are essential for optimum cellular metabolic functions.
Further, artichoke is rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. Iron is required for red blood cell formation.
Additionally, it contains small amounts of antioxidant flavonoid compounds like carotene-beta, lutein, and zea-xanthin.
Harvesting is usually done when their buds are still immature and picked just before their petals begin to open. Fresh globes can be readily available in the market all around the season, although they are at their best during the spring.
In the store, choose fresh artichokes that feel heavy for their size and without any cuts or bruise. Its leaves should be compact (appose tightly together), should feature dark green and squeak slightly when squeezed. Avoid very large, tough globes as they are unappetizing.
The globes best used while they are fresh. However, they can keep well if stored inside the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag for up to a week.
Artichokes are a popular winter season vegetables across Europe. Small or baby artichokes can be eaten completely without removing spiny choke lying inside.
To prepare bigger globes, rinse them in cold running water. Trim away the stem, leaving about 1 inch from the base. Remove the lower layers of scales as they do not contain any flesh. Using a pair of scissors, trim away thorny scale ends. Trim its top end using a paring knife up to an inch. Spread out the scales using fingers and then scrape off its central choke. Rub a lemon slice over cut portion in order to prevent it from turning brown. Then, the globe is boiled in water upside down with some added salt and lemon juice until it gets soft.
To eat artichokes, take off individual leaf at a time, dip in your favorite sauce, and scrape off the fleshy base with your teeth. Center of leaf near its attachment to the heart holds more edible flesh.
Be sure to provide a side plate to pile discarded leaves, and a soft towel/finger bowl to wash hands for the guests!
(Photo courtesy: norwichnuts)
Here are some serving tips:
Artichokes can be enjoyed mixed with vegetables, beans, meat, or stuffed with seafood.
The globes, in general, are cooked by deep-frying, sauteed in oil or barbequed. The heart of the artichoke is the main part that is eaten.
Allergic reactions to artichoke are uncommon. (Medical disclaimer).
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Research articles on nutrition.
1. Inhibition of Cholesterol Biosynthesis in Primary Cultured Rat Hepatocytes by Artichoke: http://jpet.aspetjournals.org.
3. Virginia Cooperative Extension- PDF.