What is an artichoke?
The artichoke is the prized edible flower head of a spiky thistle. Wild thistles, ancestors of the peculiar-looking artichoke, still grow today in North Africa. Artichokes were so treasured by the Romans that the poor were forbidden from eating them. Artichoke seeds were found during an archaeological dig in an ancient Roman quarry in the eastern Egyptian desert.
Artichokes were first cultivated in Italy in the early 15th century and spread through the rest of Europe, where they were also eaten in France and England during the Middle Ages. The First Fleet brought artichoke seeds to Australia and the plants were first cultivated in the fertile soils of Norfolk Island.
When artichokes are sold in Australia, the variety is not named. The Global Star, a variety without spikes, is grown annually from seed and replanted each year. Other varieties are perennials (they live for more than two years) that flower every year. The head of the artichoke is green or purple. The way the large petals are formed around a long stem gives the impression of an unopened rose.
Even though they have a similar name, the Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke, although both Jerusalem and globe artichokes are members of the daisy family.
Why artichokes are good to eat
- Artichokes are a great source of folate, which is especially important for pregnant women to help reduce the risk of birth defects in their baby.
- They are also a good source vitamin C, niacin and minerals such as magnesium and copper.
- Artichokes are a great source of dietary fibre.
- Energy – 100 g of globe artichokes supplies 145 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
The large, edible flower head (artichoke bud) grows on branches from the main stem of the thistle, a plant with prickly, grey-green to bronze-green petals. The thistle can grow up to 1.5 metres and about 15 heads grow on each plant. If the immature flower head is not picked, it will develop into a purple flower and eventually produce seeds that will scatter. Mature thistle plants can cover an area two metres wide, so make sure that you leave room for them to grow when planting.
Artichokes grow best in cooler climates. The tennis ball-sized vegetable is harvested around five to six months after planting, when the buds are still firm and the petals closed tight.
You should choose artichokes that are plump and feel heavy for their size. Select deep green coloured artichokes with tightly closed petals and a firm stem. Artichokes are not fresh if they have a limp stalk and petals that are partially open and curling backwards.
Test the freshness of artichokes by pressing the petals against each other – they should produce a squeaking sound.
How to store and keep artichokes
Keep fresh artichokes in the crisper section of your fridge. Unwashed artichokes wrapped in plastic bags in the fridge will last for about two weeks.
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Better Health Channel
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