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On Your Health

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All About Artichokes

22 June 2022

When visiting the vegetable section of the local grocery store, it’s easy to pass up the prickly artichokes that are begging for attention. After all, anything that looks intimidating tends to stay lonely. 

While visually imposing, artichokes are actually one of the healthier vegetables at the market that more people should incorporate into their meals. This blog will discover the health benefits of artichokes, dive into how to prepare and cook them and provide recipes to try at home.

What is an artichoke?

An artichoke is a type of thistle, a family of flowering plants with prickly leaves. While there are many types of artichokes, the globe artichoke (also called the French artichoke) is the most common type and one you’ll find in grocery stores.

Artichokes blossom into purple flowers, but the edible part of the plant is a bud that is harvested before they bloom. The leaves, stem and heart are all edible.

Known for their thorny appearance, artichokes contain outer leaves called bracts. The tip of the leaves contain thorns, but the base is edible. The leaves become more tender the closer you get to the artichoke heart. The actual “choke” of the artichoke is located in the center of the plant on top of the artichoke heart. This hairy-like structure shouldn’t be eaten and is easily removed with a spoon or melon baller. 

When cooked, the earthy and slightly nutty taste of artichokes is a cross between celery and asparagus. 

Artichoke nutrition

Artichokes are a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate vegetable that are high in fiber and rich in many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, folate and magnesium.

Here is a nutritional overview of 1 medium raw artichoke, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. 

  • Fat: 0.2 g (0 percent recommended daily value)
  • Calories: 60 (3 percent recommended daily value)
  • Total carbs: 13 mg (4 percent recommended daily value)
  • Dietary fiber: 7 g (28 percent recommended daily value)
  • Protein: 4 g (8 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin C: 15 mg (25 percent recommended daily value)
  • Folate: 87 micrograms (22 percent recommended daily value)
  • Magnesium: 77 mg (19 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin K: 18.9 micrograms (16 percent recommended daily value)
  • Potassium: 474 mg (13 percent recommended daily value)
  • Iron: 1.6 mg (8 percent recommended daily value)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.15 mg (5 percent recommended daily value)
  • Calcium: 56 mg (5 percent recommended daily value)

What are the health benefits of artichokes?

Artichokes are one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate. In fact, many years ago, the USDA considered artichokes with the highest antioxidant properties among vegetables.

Here are the many benefits associated with artichokes:

Helps lower cholesterol levels: Artichokes are high in dietary fiber, which helps remove bad cholesterol in your blood. In addition, artichokes contain a phenolic compound called cynarin, which has antioxidant properties that increase bile production in the liver and work to remove blood cholesterol.

Manages blood sugar: Fiber, especially insoluble fiber that doesn’t dissolve in water, helps slow the rate in which your body absorbs blood sugars. As a result, the dietary fiber in artichokes can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Aids in immune health: A single artichoke provides a quarter of the daily recommended vitamin C intake. Vitamin C is important in helping tissue repair and growth and boosting immunity. Vitamin C also regulates the production of collagen, a protein used to make connective tissue. Polyphenols found in plants such as artichokes are believed to have disease-fighting properties.

Boosts liver health: The liver filters and processes toxins from your blood. Cynarin and silymarin, two antioxidants in artichokes, can help eliminate these toxins.

Helps lower blood pressure: The presence of potassium found in artichokes helps balance sodium blood levels, which in turn can lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Decreased stroke risk: High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of strokes. Therefore, people who consume more potassium on a daily basis are less likely to have a stroke.

Improves blood clotting: Vitamin K found in artichokes is responsible for both blood clotting and bone growth. Folate, another plentiful vitamin in artichokes, aids in the production of red blood cells.

How to cut artichokes

Despite the health benefits, artichokes tend to be undervalued as a vegetable because they’re intimidating to cook with. Much of this aversion has to do with the prep process involved with cutting and trimming an artichoke.

While artichokes do need additional attention, it isn’t as difficult as it seems. 

Here is a step-by-step guide to follow to break down an entire artichoke:

  • Start by cutting the top of the artichoke off, about 1 ½ inches or so.
  • Cut off the stem and set aside.
  • Begin pulling off the outer leaves until you get down to yellow leaves. The green leaves are inedible. 
  • Trim the top and sides of the artichoke so no green parts remain. Cut off the yellow leaves near the stem.
  • Cut the artichoke heart in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove the furry choke in the center
  • Place the artichoke heart in water with the juice of a lemon or two to slow the oxidation process and to prevent discoloration. Vinegar can also be substituted for lemon.
  • Using a vegetable peeler, trim the outer green portion of the stem until the white core appears.

Much less work is required if you’re steaming an artichoke. Cut off the top third of the artichoke before trimming the thorny leaves. Cut the stem off at the base of the artichoke so it can stand up on its own to be steamed (the same concept applies when stuffing an artichoke).

If you want to keep the stem intact, trim the outer green portion using a paring knife or vegetable peeler until the white core appears. When finished, place the whole artichoke in lemon water to prevent oxidation.

How to eat an artichoke

Once peeled and trimmed, the heart and stem of an artichoke can be cut into bite-sized pieces and eaten. 

The leaves, however, must be scraped off to enjoy. The easiest way to do this is by using your teeth. Hold the pointed end of the leaf with your finger and place the other end in your mouth. Bite down on the leaf and pull it away, allowing your teeth to scrape it off.

How to cook artichokes

Fresh artichokes are versatile enough to be prepared in a variety of cooking methods such as baked, braised, grilled, roasted, sauteed or steamed. Whole artichokes are most popular when steamed or baked, while artichoke hearts are popular additions to dips, soups and salads.

Using canned, jarred or frozen artichoke hearts has its advantages, but the flavor doesn’t compare to fresh artichokes. If you want to swap fresh artichokes for a pre packaged version, a general rule is six fresh artichokes equals the following:

  • 14 ounces of canned artichoke hearts
  • 9 ounces of frozen artichoke hearts
  • 8 ounces of jarred artichoke hearts

Canned or jarred artichokes typically are packed in an acidic solution to keep them from browning or marinated in oil. As a result, these artichokes tend to have a tangy flavor. Make sure you drain them well before cutting them up or adding them to a dish.

Frozen artichokes, much like frozen spinach, are full of moisture and should be drained after being defrosted. Once dry, chop them up and add to your favorite dish – just be aware they can easily fall apart.

One final note: Avoid aluminum cookware when making a recipe with artichokes. A chemical reaction occurs that can discolor your pots and pans or the artichoke itself.

Artichoke recipes

Sturdy enough to withstand the high heat from a grill or delicate enough to soak up flavors during an hours-long braise, there are many recipe combinations to choose from when it comes to cooking artichokes.

These three specific recipes include various cooking methods to enjoy both the tender artichoke hearts and their meaty leaves.

Fresh Artichoke Pasta recipe

Pasta with fresh artichokes

Pasta with fresh vegetables is one of the quintessential summertime meals. If you’re in a pinch, canned or jarred artichoke hearts can be substituted, but neither can replace the clean, unadulterated taste of a whole artichoke.

Artichokes and Leeks recipe

Braised artichokes with leeks

The method of braising is typically associated with proteins, but it’s a popular way to cook artichokes as a way to gently impart flavor. In this dish, vegetable broth, white wine and butter combine to form a flavorful bath for the artichokes to marry in.

recipe artichokes yogurt dipping sauce

Grilled artichokes with yogurt-dill dipping sauce

For people who enjoy whole artichokes, the preferred cooking process tends to be steaming or boiling them. Grilled artichokes use either of these methods, followed by a quick sear over an open fire or an indoor grill pan to caramelize the exterior to further develop the flavor. The cool, creamy yogurt-dill sauce helps balance the charred artichoke leaves.

For more lifestyle tips, wellness content and healthy recipes, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.

 

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