Artichokes often bring to mind rich, indulgent spinach and artichoke dips and creamy pasta dishes. For this reason, these spiny, unopened flower buds are sometimes forgotten and left off health-supportive menus. But this versatile vegetable is a rich source of antioxidants and fiber, making it a nutritional powerhouse. Baked, boiled, steamed, braised, or grilled, artichokes make a healthy addition to any meal!
Artichokes range in size from golf ball (baby artichoke) to softball (jumbo). The two most common varieties, Globe and Omaha, are large, dark green globes with slightly purple tips and multiple rows of leaves. They are found in the produce section of the grocery store, either in a bin by themselves or with other specialty greens.
Similar to mushrooms, artichokes have a mellow, earthy, slightly nutty taste when eaten alone. However, the flavor profile changes when spiced with a bit of salt, a dip of sweet butter, or a sprinkle of garlic. Marinated artichokes taste different still, as they take on the essence of their brine. The incredible variety in possible flavors gives artichokes a versatility not found in many other vegetables. Experiment using them in a range of different dishes—you never know what you’ll discover.
Fresh artichokes are readily available in major supermarkets and specialty stores during the peak season. Off-season, they’re often available in specialty and natural markets. Canned, jarred, or frozen artichoke hearts are available year round, though the flavor profile is completely different from that of fresh artichokes.
Depending on the variety and your location, some artichokes are available all year long. But peak season for the common Omaha and Globe varieties is April through July in both the US and Europe.
Select compact, heavy, tightly closed artichokes. Their color may vary depending on the variety; though the common commercial options, Omaha and Globe, are often a deep green with slightly purple tips.
Avoid vegetables with browned or firm tips, dried-out leaves, or an “open” look to them, in which the leaves have spread far away from the base, as this indicates they are overripe or rotten.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Artichokes don’t appear on any of the EWG’s lists. In the past, artichokes were sprayed heavily with pesticides. However, since around 2000, one of the leading artichoke growers, Ocean Mist, has been transitioning from conventional to organic growing methods. For this reason, artichokes are generally considered less impacted by pesticides, whether they are labeled as certified organic or not.
Refrigerate whole, unwashed artichokes in a closed plastic bag in the crisper for up to one week.
Wash artichokes under cool running water, getting in between the leaves, and shake them upside down to drain excess water. Remove any brownish leaves from the bottom of the vegetable and trim away the stem right at the base of the bulb. Using a sharp, non-carbon knife, cut off the top inch of the artichoke and then clip the points of all the leaves with kitchen shears. A carbon knife may react with the artichoke, causing it (and the knife) to darken.
To boil artichokes, place them base-down in a Dutch oven or non-reactive saucepan such as ceramic, glass, or anodized stainless steel. Add water so the vegetable is halfway submerged, and include a pinch of salt. Enhance the flavor with other spices, such as fennel, peeled garlic, or bay leaves as desired. Cover and boil on high heat for about 30 to 45 minutes until fork tender. Alternately, artichokes can be microwaved, steamed, grilled, or braised.
Scrape the tender, juicy bit at the end with a spoon or your teeth. Once you’ve nibbled away at all the leaves, remove and discard the fuzzy choke—the small hair-like fibers that separate the artichoke heart from its leaves—to access the equally juicy artichoke heart.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bone. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
The USDA ranks artichokes #7 on its Top 20 Antioxidant-Rich Foods list. An antioxidant is a substance that prevents the oxidation of cells in the body. While we typically think of oxygen as a good thing, sometimes when cells are oxidized, they produce free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are always looking for additional electrons to make them more stable. They often attach to the electron of another cell and cause new free radicals to form. Over time, free radicals damage the cells in the body and can even alter our DNA. Excessive free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also cause, in part, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help by stabilizing free radicals, thus reducing their potential damage.
In addition to the numerous antioxidants found in artichokes, this vegetable is a rich source of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber aids digestion by helping food move along the digestive tract. Without fiber, you may experience constipation, irregularity, and low energy. High-fiber diets are associated with weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease, and reduced risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
- The artichoke plant grows up to 3 feet tall, and produces approximately 20 artichokes each year. Artichokes are flower buds that have yet to bloom.
- Ancient Greeks and Romans used the artichoke as a deodorant, a breath freshener, a diuretic, and an aphrodisiac.
- Many people in Vietnam grind up artichoke leaves to make tea.