Artichoke also called globe artichoke is a variety of a species of thistle cultivated as a food.
Native to the western and central Mediterranean, the artichoke was domesticated and carried to the eastern Mediterranean in ancient times, though it was then valued for its young leaves rather than the immature flower heads.
The artichoke is mentioned as a garden plant in the 8th century BC by Homer and Hesiod.
Pliny the Elder mentioned growing of ‘carduus’ in Carthage and Cordoba.
During the Middle Ages there was hardly a mention of artichokes in historical references, though it was known they were definitely enjoyed at Sicilian tables. This same period saw Saracens growing them in Granada while the Moors were cultivating them in North Africa.
European immigrants brought artichokes to the United States in the 1800s, first to Louisiana and later to the mid-coastal region of California, where the cool, foggy climate has proven ideal for their cultivation.
Today, cultivation of artichokes is concentrated in the countries bordering the Mediterranean basin. The main European producers are Italy, Spain, and France and the main American producers are Argentina, Peru and the United States. A full 99 percent of the US commercial crop is grown in California today.
This perennial plant can grow up to 2 meters (6.6 feet) in height with leaves up to 80 centimeters (31 inches) long.
Artichoke plants feature deeply toothed large leaves that grow up to one meter (3 feet) long and that die each year after flowers are formed.
The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 8 to 15 centimeters diameter with numerous triangular scales; the individual florets are purple.
The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the involucral bracts and the base, or center, known as the “heart;” the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the “choke.” These are inedible in older larger flowers.
The artichoke’s flavour is delicate and nutlike, and the smaller heads, or buds, are usually the most tender. Artichoke heads are served as a hot vegetable with a sauce or as a cold salad or appetizer.
There are only 47 calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of artichokes.
Artichokes are a excellant source of fiber, vitamin C, folate, magnesium.They are also good source of vitamin B complex, vitamin K, vitamin E, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. Artichokes also contain some of the highest levels of disease-fighting antioxidants among fresh vegetables.
In France artichokes are very popular deep fried.
In the United States, whole globe artichokes are most frequently prepared for cooking by removing all but 5 to 10 millimeters or so of the stem, and (optionally) cutting away about a quarter of each scale with scissors. This removes the thorns that can interfere with handling the leaves when eating. Then, the artichoke is boiled or steamed until tender. If boiling, salt can be added to the water, if desired.
There are many stuffed artichoke recipes. A common Italian stuffing uses a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic, oregano, parsley, grated cheese, and prosciutto or sausage.
In Italy, artichoke hearts in oil are the usual vegetable for “spring” section of the “Four Seasons” pizza (with olives for summer, mushrooms for autumn, and prosciutto for winter).
In Spain artichoke are sprinkled with olive oil and left in hot ashes in a barbecue, sautéed in olive oil with garlic, with rice as a paella, or sautéed and combined with eggs in a tortilla (frittata).
Artichoke is the primary flavor of the 16.5%-alcohol (33-proof) Italian liqueur Cynar produced by the Campari Group. It can be served over ice as an aperitif or as a cocktail mixed with orange juice, especially popular in Switzerland. It is also used to make a ‘Cin Cyn’, a slightly less-bitter version of the Negroni cocktail, by substituting Campari by Cynar.
Artichokes can also be made into a herbal tea. “Artichoke tea” is produced as a commercial product in the Da Lat region of Vietnam. A herbal tea called Ceai de Anghinare based on artichoke is made in Romania. The flower portion is put into water and consumed as a herbal tea in Mexico. It has a slightly bitter woody taste.