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The Edible Thistles We Call Globe Artichokes

Since we’ve discussed Jerusalem artichokes, which are neither from Israel nor are they artichokes, it seems appropriate to look at globe artichokes; what most people think of as an artichoke.

Artichokes are a kind of thistle. Many kinds of thistles are edible, but this one is actually cultivated. The plant grows up to six and a half feet tall and it isn’t uncommon for the leaves to be a yard long. The leaves have spines, as is common with thistles.

What is eaten as an artichoke is actually the immature, unopened blossom. It has the appearance of a somewhat rounded collection of leafy bracts and the best eating comes from those artichokes in which the bracts are tight rather than loose. They loosen with age.

When cooked, the base of each bract is fleshy and soft. This is the part that is eaten, as well as the innermost part of the artichoke that is called the heart. More properly, the heart is the ‘choke’, from which the artichoke gets its name. Once the flowers open, giving a purplish inflorescence, the artichoke is no longer edible.

Artichokes have been grown, harvested, and eaten since at least 800 years before the birth of Jesus. They are also quite high in antioxidants. Artichokes can additionally lower blood cholesterol levels. This vegetable is high in vitamin B9 (folate), magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and sodium. There are about 50 calories in 3.5 ounces of cooked artichokes.

Italy currently produces more artichokes than any other country and over ten times as many as are produced in the US. Most artichokes grown and sold in stores in the US come from California, though they will grow in most states, with proper care. Artichokes are perennials, usually beginning production of the flower buds in the second year.

Interestingly, though globe artichokes are sometimes called French artichokes, the US grows more artichokes than France does.

Artichokes are normally cooked by boiling or steaming them. My preference is to use mayonnaise to dip the bracts in for eating, though many people like using lemon-butter. The chokes or hearts are also sometimes pickled or marinated.

In Italy, artichokes are also used to produce a liqueur called Cynar, sometimes served over ice or as a cocktail.

  • Do you like eating artichokes?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I’ve never eaten artichokes
    • I’ve only eaten pickled or marinated artichoke hearts
  • Have you ever seen an artichoke plant?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I’ve grown artichokes

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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    • Artichoke plants look quite a bit different than Jerusalem artichoke plants. Jerusalem artichoke plants have a typical sunflower leaf and many small yellow sunflowers. Artichoke leaves are larger, deeply toothed, and they have spines on the end of the leaves. If the artichoke is allowed to mature, it does have a pretty purple flower, though.

    • They are really easy to cook. Basically, you boil them until the bracts come off easily. The base of each bract is fleshy, so we usually just dip it in mayo, then rake off the fleshy part between our tongue and teeth, then throw away the rest of the bract and move on to the next one. Eventually, all that is left is the heart and the entire heart is eaten.

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