Artichokes: A Rich History and Mild Flavor

Artichoke lovers can thank Zeus for the creation of this unusual vegetable. Ancient Greeks believed that as punishment for deceiving him, Zeus transformed his beautiful lover Cynara into this prickly plant. In Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean region where they grew wild, artichokes were considered both a delicacy and an aphrodisiac and were a favorite among ancient Romans and Greeks. Centuries later, Catherine de’ Medici brought the artichoke to France, where it quickly gained favor. But she wasn’t the only prominent woman to love artichokes; in 1948, Norma Jeane Mortenson (a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe) was crowned California Artichoke Queen in Castroville, Calif.

The flower bud of a thistle plant in the sunflower family, artichokes have thorny points on their leaves which must be removed before eating. Today, there are more than 100 varieties of artichokes worldwide, ranging from dark green to deep purple in color and from large spheres to long oval cylinders in shape. Although artichokes are cultivated in Spain, Italy and France, nearly all artichokes in the United States are grown in California and are of the globe or French variety. They have a mild, slightly sweet, nutty flavor. Peak artichoke season is spring, but they can be harvested in summer and mid-autumn as well. 

Artichokes in the Kitchen

Whole artichokes can be roasted, steamed, boiled, fried or grilled. To prepare, remove the outer leaves, cut off about one-third of the top, then use kitchen shears to snip off the thorn of each leaf-like petal. If the artichoke has a stem, peel and clean the fibrous outside. Rub the artichoke with a slice of lemon to prevent it from oxidizing. At this point, the artichoke can be seasoned with salt and pepper or stuffed with any number of fillings (breadcrumbs and cheese are common), then brushed or drizzled with olive oil and cooked. You’ll know it’s done when a petal pulls off easily or the stem can be easily pierced with a knife. The leaves, which often are served with olive oil, butter, aioli or vinaigrette for dipping, are eaten by scraping off the soft, fleshy part of each leaf with a spoon or between your teeth and discarding the rest. In the center of the artichoke is a fuzzy “choke,” which must be removed to get to the prized “heart” or artichoke bottom. Artichoke hearts can be cooked or sliced thinly and eaten raw.

Artichokes' Nutritional Qualities

One medium artichoke has about 60 calories and yields only about 2 ounces of edible food. It is high in fiber (about 7 grams of fiber per artichoke), vitamin K and folate, and is a good source of magnesium and vitamin C. Traditionally, artichokes have been used as a remedy for indigestion and upset stomach. Lately, however, research suggests artichokes may have anti-carcinogenic properties and could lower cholesterol.

In Quantity

Whole artichokes can be found in the produce department of supermarkets in several sizes, from baby to jumbo. (An artichoke’s size is determined by its location on the plant, not the variety.) Choose artichokes that are heavy for their size and have tightly packed leaves and no brown spots. Ready-to-eat artichoke hearts are available frozen, canned or marinated in a vinegar-oil mixture. Artichoke hearts are commonly added to pizza, pasta, soups and salads, are a staple on antipasti platters and can be batter-dipped and fried. In foodservice, they are generally purchased as whole or quartered artichoke hearts, as preparing a whole artichoke in-house is labor-intensive and costly. Whole artichokes are rarely served in commercial foodservice operations. 

Diane Welland, MBA, RDN, LD, is a food and nutrition consultant and adjunct instructor at Georgia State University.


Heart-healthy Stuffed Artichoke Hearts

Developed by Sarene Alsharif

Ingredients

  • [400 grams] 1 14-ounce bag frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • [710 grams] 3 cups (710 milliliters) water
  • [5 grams] 1 teaspoon salt
  • [15 grams] 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) lemon juice
  • [7 grams] 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil
  • [90 grams] 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • [65 grams] 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • [50 grams] 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • [5 grams] 2 cubes low-sodium chicken bouillon
  • [75 grams] ó cup frozen baby sweet peas
  • [10 grams] 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 

Directions

  1. Place thawed artichoke hearts and water in a medium-sized pot and stir in salt and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over mediumhigh heat, then reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour oil into a skillet and add diced carrot, onion and celery. Crumble bouillon cubes on top of vegetables and sauté over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until onions are translucent and celery is soft. Stir in peas and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in fresh parsley.
  3. Artichokes are done cooking when they are easy to pierce with a fork. Remove from heat and pour artichokes into a colander to drain water. Using a spoon, fill each artichoke heart with vegetable mixture and arrange on a plate. Enjoy immediately or store covered in the refrigerator for up to five days. Serves 4.

Nutrition Information

SERVING SIZE: 5 stuffed artichoke hearts (160 grams);

CALORIES 105; TOTAL FAT 3g; SAT. FAT 0g; CHOL. 0mg; SODIUM 109mg; CARB. 17g; FIBER 9g; SUGARS 4g; PROTEIN 4g; POTASSIUM N/A; PHOSPHORUS N/A Note: Nutrition information for potassium and phosphorus in frozen artichoke hearts and low-sodium chicken bouillon not available.  

Diane Welland
Diane Welland, MS, RD, is a nutrition communications manager at Kellen Company.