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Getting to Know the Artichoke

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The overlooked artichoke, native to the Mediterranean region and part of the cuisine for thousands of years, is as nutritious as it is tast.

The overlooked artichoke, native to the Mediterranean region and part of the cuisine for thousands of years, is as nutritious as it is tasty.

The artichoke’s low-fat, high-fibre content makes it a winning food for heart health, as well as in the prevention of cancer.
Low in calories, the artichoke contains no fat or cholesterol. It is dense with nutrition, featuring 16 essential nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium. Aside from its stellar mineral content, the artichoke is a good source of fibre, vitamin C, and folate.

The value of the artichoke was well recognized in ancient times, with people using it as an aphrodisiac, breath freshener, diuretic, and even as a deodorant. Decoctions of artichoke leaves have been used as blood cleansers and to improve bile production and detoxify the liver.

It appears these ancient remedies held some truth, as current research shows that an active compound in artichoke, called silymarin, is a powerful antioxidant and may help in liver regeneration. A second chemical compound found in artichokes leaves, cynarin, is also of benefit to the liver. Artichokes do, indeed, have diuretic properties, and natural practitioners regard them as an excellent food to lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar.

If you’re like most Canadians, buying artichokes consists of purchasing a bottle of artichoke hearts floating in oil. However, there are great rewards in knowing how to purchase, prepare, and eat fresh artichokes. With a bit of information and experimentation, a whole world of opportunities open up: pastas, dips, salads, and more.

The Art of Artichokes

When buying artichokes, look for ones that are compact with plump, fleshy leaves. They should feel heavy for their size with evenly coloured, firm heads. Wash them only when you’re ready to use them. Store for up to a week in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.

To prepare an artichoke, hold by the stem and swish around in a bowl of cold water. Cut 1 inch (2.5 cm) off the top of the artichoke and slightly trim all outer leaves with scissors. Remove coarse leaves from the bottom and cut stem flush with the bottom of the artichoke. To use the artichoke heart only, cut the artichoke lengthwise to make removal easier. Use in recipes or steam as a side vegetable.

To enjoy the Mediterranean one-petal-at-a-time technique, steam the artichoke one-half hour, then drain upside down in a colander. Take a petal from the artichoke and pull the base of the petal through slightly clenched teeth to strip off the "meat." Discard the petal skin. This is a delicious way to enjoy a dip. Some people insist that the steamed stem is the best part.

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