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Cardoon nutrition facts

Cardoon is a well-known leaf-stalk vegetable of Mediterranean origin. It is closely related to artichoke, the other edible thistle, native to the Southern European region. Various recipes prepared using cardoni stalks are part of traditional Christmas Eve festivities in Italy, Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, and France.

Botanically, it belongs to the composite Asteraceae or daisy family, in the genus, Cynara. Scientific name: Cynara cardunculus. Some of the common names include cardone, cardo, carduni, cardoni, cardi, etc.

cyanar cardunculus cardoon pieces
Cynara cardunculus.
(Photo courtesy: digika)
Cardoon stalks.
Photo courtesy: La blasco

Cardoon is a hardy perennial plant that can grow vigorously in cultivated farms. It features robust growth characterized by rosette of large, gray, spiny leaves and branched flowering stems. In general, cardoon is larger than globe artichoke plant, reaching up to 3 to 5 feet in height and spread of about two meters width.

Bright purple flowers appear at the end of a long flower-bearing stems. The flowers, however, are smaller than that of in artichokes. A few weeks before harvest, its leaves bundled together and blanched by depriving exposure to sunlight as in escarole. Blanching removes bitterness, and enhances their flavor.

Health benefits of Cardoon

  • As in celery, cardoon too is one of very low-calorie leaf vegetable, carrying just 17 calories per 100 g. Nonetheless, it contains unique health benefiting plant nutrients such as anti-oxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

  • Research studies suggest that certain bitter principles cynarin and sesquiterpene-lactones in cardoon thistle extraction have overall cholesterol reduction effect in the blood through inhibition of its synthesis and increasing its excretion in the bile.

  • Further, cardone petioles contain numerous phytonutrients such as luteolin, silymarin, caffeic acid and ferulic acid and dicaffeoyl-quinic acids, which protect cellular proteins, membrane lipids, and DNA from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

  • As in globe artichoke, cardoon too has excellent levels of vitamin folic acid, providing about 68 µg per 100 g (17% of recommended daily allowance). Folic acid acts as a co-factor for enzymes involving in the synthesis of DNA. Scientific studies have shown that adequate levels of folates in the diet during pre-conception period and during early pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects in the newborn baby.

  • 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.

  • Additionally, its stems are also 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 pressing 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.

Selection and storage

cardo stalks
Cardoon stalks in a market.
(Photo courtesy: tvol)

Fresh cardoon stalks (petoles) flood the markets during the fall and winter. You can find fresh greens as well as blanched, creamy white bent stalks (“gobbi” or hunchbacks) tied in bundles in these vegetable local markets.

Choose firm, stout stalks with bright silver-grey leaves. Avoid wilted petioles. You may also find dwarf, stout, and spineless varieties in the markets. Buy only few bunches at a time.

Once at home, store fresh cardoons in a paper towel and place inside the refrigerator. They keep well for up to a week. You may also want to prepare, blanch, and store them in a plastic bag and place inside the refrigerators for any later use.

Preparation and serving methods

Cardoon is one of the popular winter season vegetables employed in cooking in most parts of Europe. In appearance, its stalks (petioles) resemble as that of celery stalks. Its stalks has a unique, sweet, nutty flavor grayish-white flesh.

To prepare, trim off any leaves or thorns, and peel the stalks using a vegetable peeler to remove tough strings. Cut them into 1-inch length pieces. Cut sections tend to discolor; place in cold water with lemon juice (acidulated water) to keep them from turning brown.

To blanch, put cut pieces in boiling water for about 20 minutes until they tenderize. Drain, immediately shift them into a bowl of cold water. Remove and spread them on a paper towel. Thus, blanched and readied pieces can be used in recipes or stored inside the refrigerator for future use.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Cardoon can be braised, sautéed, boiled in soups and stews, or dipped in batter and deep-fried or baked with butter and cream.

  • The cardoon root, which is a thick, fleshy and tender underground root of this plant, is often boiled, and then served cold in salads.

  • Boiled or roasted cardoon can be enjoyed with warm dip bagna cauda; native to Piedmont province in Northern Italy.

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Further resources:

1. Inhibition of Cholesterol Biosynthesis in Primary Cultured Rat Hepatocytes by Artichoke: http://jpet.aspetjournals.org.

2. USDA National Nutrient Database.

3. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.

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