Did you know artichokes are the official California state vegetable? This artistic nutrient-filled veggie was assigned to our state in 2013 by Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom. Not surprisingly, artichokes perfectly suit California’s health-conscious residents due to the plethora of disease-fighting benefits they offer.
The Origin of the Artichoke
Long-stem, heirloom, globe, and baby are all different versions of artichokes. While the exact origin is not known, it is commonly believed that they were first picked somewhere in the Mediterranean, possibly Sicily or North Africa, but we do know that it was the Italians who heroically brought these blooming globes to California around the 1500’s.
The most popular variety of artichokes grown in California is the globe artichokes. They prefer to grow in not too hot or not too cold environments, so it makes sense that 99% percent of US-grown artichokes are grown right here in Southern California where we are spoiled with 70 degrees weather year round.
Artichokes are available year-round in San Diego, but their peak seasons are in Spring and Fall.
Nutritional Benefits of Eating Artichoke
According to the USDA, artichokes ranks third in antioxidant capacity, above blueberries, pomegranates, and turmeric. What does that mean? Well, antioxidants reduce inflammation in the body and help prevent chronic diseases, such as various cancers.
On top of a hefty load of antioxidants, artichokes are also a good source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and folate.
Nutrition Facts for a Medium Artichoke
Carbohydrate: 13 g
Fiber: 7 g
Protein: 4 g
Iron: 1.6 mg
Calcium: 60 mg
Potassium: 470 mg
The Artichoke's Medicinal Benefits
Artichokes have been studied for their role in the reduction of gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and gas. This is likely due to the prebiotic content in artichokes. Prebiotics are essentially the food for probiotics, together they help us maintain good gut health.
It’s not like we need more reasons to eat artichokes, but in addition to all this, their leaf extracts have long been used in folk medicine to promote liver health and eating the flesh has also been shown to aid in blood sugar control.
Many dietitians promote the Mediterranean diet as a healthful approach to daily nutrition, and artichokes are at the top of most people's grocery lists in Italy.
Buying, Storing, and Cooking Artichokes
When purchasing artichokes at the store or local farmers market, choose the ones that are olive green in color, heavy for their size, and have tight leaves.
Slice a dime-sized amount of the stem off before storing in an airtight bag or container. Don’t wash the artichoke unless you plan to cook it immediately, and be sure to use it within 5-7 days after purchasing.
Popular in Mediterranean cuisine, whole artichokes and artichoke hearts can be a great addition to a wide variety of dishes.
Use the tender, fully-edible hearts for spinach artichoke dip, pasta or pizza topping, omelets, casseroles, veggie stir-fries, stuffed in grilled cheese sandwiches, or minced with garlic for a salmon topping. I especially love layering slices of the hearts with pesto and bell pepper on toast.
But, don't let the rest of the artichoke intimidate you. Simply cut in half and scrape out the fuzzy center before preparing grilled artichokes, or cut off the stem and fan open the leaves to prep them to be stuffed and steamed or baked. They cook fast, and scraping the "meat" off of each leaf with your teeth is just plain fun.