The artichoke can be an intimidating vegetable—with all its prickly, user-unfriendly construction. But really the artichoke is just the edible flower bud of a spectacular giant thistle. Underneath their forbidding exterior, artichokes hold a treasure of nutrients.
One medium-size artichoke provides:
- Vitamin C: An antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals that can cause cell damage and supports a healthy immune system. .
- Magnesium: Essential in the construction of proteins, in energy production, and cell signaling pathways. It also plays a structural role in our bones and muscles.
- Iron: Ensures our blood supply is robust and able to carry oxygen and nutrients to our tissues.
- Fiber: A fiber-rich diet helps keep our immune system healthy and strong.
Artichokes contain quercetin, a phytonutrient that has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties. Current research involving animal models is exploring the potential anticancer properties of quercetin.
It is important to note that the effects on cancer cells have been shown only in animal studies and at this time cannot be applied to humans. More research is needed before these results can inform dietary recommendations.
However, it is exciting to note the emerging research being done on the potential anti-cancer properties of plants, as it reminds us of the importance of including a variety of phytonutrient-rich plant foods in our diet to provide the best protection against cancer and other chronic illnesses.
Artichokes come in two basic sizes, large and small. The large ones are great for boiling and steaming. They are usually eaten one leaf at a time until you get to the delicious heart. The smaller ones are trimmed of their chewy, hard ends and used in sautés, risottos and stews.
Look for artichokes with leaves that are plump and smooth, without any drying or withering at the edges. They should be a milky green without blemishes. Some varieties, especially the smaller frying artichokes, have dark reddish-brown streaks on each leaf.
While large artichokes don’t need much prepping before cooking, the smaller ones require a lot of trimming before they can be cooked and eaten. Cut about two-thirds off the top, and then pare the remaining leaves down to get to the tender leaf bases — like sharpening a pencil. Artichokes oxidize and start to turn brown once you cut them, so have a bowl of acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon) ready to put them in as you trim them.
Trimmed artichokes and artichoke hearts are readily available frozen and canned. These are good options for most recipes. If you’re buying canned, make sure to get artichokes packed in sodium-free water, not oil.
Artichoke hearts pickled in vinegar are ideal for appetizer plates or as salad toppings, and should not be cooked further.