Artichoke: nutrition facts and health benefits

Artichoke

The word artichoke refers to the plant which derives from the native Thistle of Mediterranean plant and its edible part the base or bottom of the flower of the plant. It consists of a receptacle, on the “bottom”, which is fleshy. It is surrounded by bracts, known as the ‘leaves ‘. Their base is also fleshy. On the bottom is “hay”, which is not edible and which gives a flower if the artichoke is not harvested.

Artichoke was introduced in France by Catherine de Medici. She was also very fond of this vegetable. Then it became popular in Spain. It was imported in America by the French in Louisiana and by the Spanish in California. Artichoke needs heat for its culture. 90% of world production comes from the Mediterranean countries. The rest is divided between California, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Peru and Venezuela.

History of the artichoke

The artichoke is a garden plant of which people consume the flower bud. It belongs to the Asteraceae family which includes a multitude of species. Several of them are used as food or medicinal plants: arnica, burdock, dandelion, lettuce, chicory, knapweed, salsify, tansy, wormwood, thistle, yarrow, chamomile, etc.

The species C. cardunculus comes from the Mediterranean basin. It would have been brought in Egypt 2 000 or 2 500 years ago, then spread to the West. The artichoke comes from a subgroup that is unknown in the wild. Its ancestor is named the cardoon of the fields. It grows spontaneously in the entire Mediterranean basin as well as in various parts of the world. The latin name of this species reminds us of its similarity to the thistle, which has long been consumed for its flowers and leaves. Romans and Greeks attributed to thistles many medicinal properties. They were ready to pay large amounts of money to acquire them.

It’s in 1400 in Naples when the artichoke as such was mentioned for the first time. Coming from Italy, it was introduced in France in 1533 by Catherine de Medici. This vegetable was popular in Italy as well as in Spain and their respective colonies. It received little interest among the English and Americans. Even today, the only American states where its culture is important are Louisiana, founded by the French, and California, founded by the Spanish.

Since the 16th century, two types of artichoke exist. They are classified according to the cone or round shape of their floral bud, and are part of many subgroups, known in Europe under various regional names: big camus of Brittany, big green of Laon (also called “cat head”), Provence green, thorny or sarda, macau, white Tudela, violet of Provence, Venice or Tuscany, poivrade…

Health profile of artichoke

The artichoke is appreciated both for its leaves and for its refined heart taste. It has many vitamins and is a high source of fibers. It’s a vegetable with strong antioxidant power providing numerous benefits for health.

Benefits of artichoke

High cholesterol. Some data indicate that consumption of extracts from artichoke leaves could be beneficial in the treatment of high cholesterol by reducing blood levels of cholesterol. However, further studies will be needed to ensure the safety of the extracts from artichoke leaves before we can recommend their use to treat hypercholesterolemia.

Several epidemiological studies have shown that a high consumption of fruit and vegetables decreases the risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. The presence of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables could play a role in this protection.

What is in the artichoke?

Antioxidants

The edible parts of artichoke contain a variety of antioxidants, such as certain phenolic compounds (acid, chlorogenic, narirutine, apigenin-7-rutinoside, cynarine) and anthocyanins (cyanidin, delphinidin, peonidine). Another antioxidant of the artichoke is called silymarin.  It could contribute to the prevention and potential treatment of cancer.

An animal study showed that ingestion of an artichoke puree allowed to inhibit the toxicity of a chemical compound causing genetic damage. This effect could be attributed in most part to the antioxidant content within the artichoke. Until now, research has focused on the effects of antioxidants from medicinal extracts of artichoke leaves and less on the artichoke consumed as a vegetable.

Inulin

Artichoke contains inulin, a non-digestible sugar of the fructans family. Inulin is described as a prebiotic, it’s not digested or absorbed by the small intestine, but fermented by the colon bacterial flora. Beneficial bacteria of the intestine (e.g. Bifidobacteria) can use inulin to develop more effectively their role on intestinal health and the immune system. These bacteria also contribute to the synthesis or the absorption of several nutrients.

In addition, studies tend to demonstrate a beneficial effect of inulin on blood fat regulation, especially for individuals with high lipid levels. Other works indicate that inulin may play a role in blood sugar control. However, more research will be needed since some data showed contradictory results.

Finally, studies have revealed that inulin could play a role in reducing colon cancer risk among humans. And other studies, among animals, shows that inulin could have a protective role effect against breast and intestinal cancer.

Dietary fiber

Artichoke is a high source of dietary fiber. With an amount of 4.7 g for a medium artichoke, it represents respectively 12% and 19% of the daily recommended fiber for men and women aged 19 to 50 years old. Artichoke contains two types of fiber. In its heart, there are 18% insoluble fiber and 27% are soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber has the ability to prevent constipation. Soluble fiber can contribute to the prevention of cardiovascular disease and control type 2 diabetes. In addition, various rich fiber foods are associated with a lower risk of colon cancer and can help control appetite more quickly bringing a sense of satiety.

How to eat

To eat it, first remove the larger leaves that can be tough and stringy. Then remove the leaves one by one and dip their base in melted butter, mayonnaise or any other sauce of your choice. Eat only the fleshy part. Then remove the hay, which is located on the heart of the artichoke, then pour a little sauce on the bottom and enjoy.

Selection and conservation

Choose

The artichoke leaves should be soft green (unless, it’s the violet artichoke), sitting well together against each other and feel brittle under the fingers. If the leaves are open, it is sign that the artichoke is too ripe, it is hard and its hay in the inside will be too abundant. There shouldn’t be black spots at the edge or at their base. If you see black spots it’s a sign of lack of freshness. The artichoke should be firm and heavy.

Small artichokes exist (so-called “baby artichokes” or “new artichokes”), which are eaten raw with its tail.

Keep

Refrigerator. A few days, in a plastic bag. To keep it longer, spray a few drops of water before putting it in the bag closing tightly to keep it wet. Or, if it has a tail, place it in a container partially filled with water and store in the refrigerator. Don’t wash until you cook it.

Freezer. Take out the artichokes leaves, remove hay and bleach 3 minutes in boiling water with lemon juice. Cool them and mop them dry before putting them in a freezer bag.

Organic gardening

Artichoke requires a lot of space for its growing. In addition, it needs relatively cool temperatures during its period of growth, heat waves can be particularly harmful. For this reason, in many places in the world where the climate is appropriate, it is grown winter to harvest it in the spring. It requires a good fertilization as well as an abundance of water in case of drought.

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