It’s artichoke season! Spring artichokes are now available and at their prime! Upon first glance, an artichoke looks intimidating. Artichokes are an ancient food from the plant known as Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus which is a kind of thistle. The part that we see in our stores and eat is actually the flower bud of the plant, also called the head, which has become a highly regarded vegetable. It’s quite intriguing to wonder how ancient man figured out how to eat and enjoy such a thorny-looking thing.
Artichokes are best enjoyed at two different times of the year, spring and fall. The spring season runs from March to May, and the fall season is September and October. 99 percent of our artichokes are grown in California, with Monterey County being the lead producer and the town of Castroville being the “Artichoke Center of the World!” Artichokes are also grown commercially in Oregon and Washington. They thrive best in Zones 7-11; however, they can be grown in colder regions, like Iowa, as an annual vegetable.
Artichokes are fiber-rich, low in calories, and come packed with nutrition. Per the Nutrition Value website, one medium-sized artichoke cooked without salt (120g) provides 64 calories, 3.5g of protein, 14.4g of carbohydrates, and 0.4g of fat. In addition, artichokes are an excellent source of vitamin C and K, potassium, and antioxidants. (For additional nutrition information, see profile at Nutrition Value.) Artichokes contain the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable (polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, among others) and are loaded with an army of beneficial nutrients that can protect the body from cancer per the National Foundation for Cancer Research. While a fresh artichoke provides the best nutrition, artichokes are available in other convenient preparations—frozen, canned, and marinated heart.
While nearly all parts of the artichoke are edible, they are prized for their ‘heart,’ which is found at the base of the stem. The parts of the artichoke which are usually inedible include the choke, outer petals, and thorns. The choke, located right above the heart, is stringy and indigestible. The lower part of the petals, which contain part of the heart, are edible by drawing the lower petal through the teeth with the rest of the petal discarded. The thorns are usually snipped off.
When purchasing artichokes, choose those that have a tight leaf formation, a deep green color, and are heavy for their size. In general, the smaller the artichoke, the more tender it will be, and the rounder it is, the larger its heart. Artichokes are best used on the day of purchase but can be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Wash just before cooking.
Artichokes can be prepared by steaming, stuffing, baking, braising, or grilling. Steaming is the most common means of preparation. They are done when the bottom of the stem can be pierced with a knife. Whatever method is used, stainless steel, glass, or enamelware should be used to prevent discoloration and off-flavors. Lemon juice should be used on cut edges to prevent discoloration.
Dani Spies of Clean and Delicious® has an excellent video, Artichoke 101, where she shares how to buy, store, prepare, cook, and eat artichokes. Check this video out, and artichoke intimidation will be over!
Co-author, Marcia Steed, AnswerLine Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Sources (Accessed 3 March 2023)
- California Artichoke Facts. California Artichoke Advisory Board
- Artichokes, without salt, drained, boiled, cooked, (Globe or French). NutritionValue.Org
- The Amazing Antioxidants in Artichokes, National Foundation for Cancer Research
- Artichoke Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits, VerywellFit.com
- Anatomy of an Artichoke. Garden Betty.com
- Artichoke 101, Clean and Delicious with Dani Spies®