Artichokes are the edible flower bud of the artichoke plant. They have many overlapping leaves that become increasingly tender and edible further into the bud. Artichokes were cultivated in ancient Egypt and ancient Rome and are still a traditional ingredient in many Mediterranean and Italian dishes. Canned artichoke hearts are an option when fresh artichokes are out of season.
How to Prepare Artichokes
Whole artichokes are usually enjoyed on their own, or with a simple dipping sauce, but the hearts can be added to stir fries, rice or pasta dishes, soups or even salads. For a simple snack, you can broil or steam them whole, then discard the tough outer leaves. You can dip the inner leaves in lemon juice, melted butter, vinegar, aioli or another sauce. Only the fleshy bottom part of the leaf is eaten, and the rest is discarded. Finally, you can eat the heart of the artichoke whole, after removing the “choke” which is the undeveloped flower. The inner stem can also be peeled and eaten. You can eat artichokes hot or chill them in the fridge to snack on later.
The Health Benefits of Artichokes
An interesting characteristic of artichokes is that they can sweeten the taste of other foods. This is due to a chemical in artichokes called cynarin. Scientists are currently studying this effect in the hope of using it as a natural sweetener. However, for now you can experience it as a novelty, or use it to aid your diet. For example, eat artichokes as a low calorie snack after a meal, and the sweet effect may fool you into thinking you’ve had dessert. The effort involved in peeling the leaves may also give you time to stop feeling hungry. It can take a short while after eating before your body stops feeling hungry, and this can sometimes cause you to overeat. Eating an artichoke can fill this time gap.
Artichokes are a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium and dietary fiber. One artichoke contains one quarter of the fiber you need to eat per day, for only 30-60 calories. They also have the most antioxidants of any vegetable. Antioxidants can help to prevent cancer, heart disease and fine lines and wrinkles. In studies, artichoke extract has been shown to protect liver cells. Studies have also shown them to have a beneficial effect for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, and they are generally good for your digestion.
Artichokes are quick and easy to prepare, have few calories and many health benefits. They can be a delicious snack by themselves or add an interesting flavor to a larger dish. Artichokes are a particularly good snack for after a meal, as they can aid in digestion, and provide an activity to keep you from overeating. Try artichokes to add variety and nutrients to your diet.