Latin name: Cynara cardunculus 
Uses: vegetable, tea, liqueur 

What are artichokes?

Artichokes are the unopened flower buds of a plant in the thistle family. They grow on stalks 4 to 6 feet tall, surrounded by long, lobed, silvery-green leaves. The bud’s triangular bracts look like reptile scales, and only the thick part at their base — surrounding what’s known as the heart — is edible. The heart is covered with immature florets, known as the choke, which are usually scraped off before eating. Varieties range from conical to spherical in shape, and from bright green to deep purple in color. When open, the plant’s flowers are purple, and the hearts and leaves are no longer edible.

Why are artichokes healthy?

Artichokes have the highest known antioxidant content of any vegetable, including the powerful liver-protecting flavonoid silymarin. They’re also one of the rare foods to contain both prebiotic and probiotic compounds, so they’re one-stop shopping for a healthy microbiome.

What do artichokes taste like?

Artichokes taste distinctly vegetal and slightly bitter, with a seductively savory flavor. Though unrelated, artichokes and asparagus both have a similarly grassy astringency and share affinities with some of the same foods.

How do I use artichokes?

You can boil or steam them whole and then eat the leaves one by one. Dunk them in melted butter, aioli, hollandaise, or a vinaigrette before scraping off the edible part with your teeth and then devour the heart when you reach it. All around the Mediterranean people stuff various mixtures of garlic, breadcrumbs, ground meat, herbs, spices, and nuts inside before braising them. In France, they’re braised in white wine and olive oil to make artichauts à la barigoule, and they take well to this sort of stewing. In Rome, “Jewish-style” artichokes are deep fried whole. Canned artichoke hearts are popular as a pizza topping and are often blended into a warm dip. Cynar, an Italian aperitif, features artichoke as its main botanical flavor.

What do artichokes pair well with?

Artichokes love lemons, garlic, olive oil, mint, and parsley. Egg yolk sauces like aioli and hollandaise balance the plant’s gentle astringency beautifully, and some acidity from lemon or vinegar brightens up their mood considerably.

Where do artichokes grow?

Artichokes are domesticated descendants of the cardoon, a plant native to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean region — especially Italy, Spain, and Egypt — remains a major producer, with the west coast of North and South America (including California, Argentina, and Peru) also contributing to the global crop.

How to buy artichokes:

Whether they're green or purple, large or small, look for firm heads — not squishy — that aren't turning brown. Store them in the crisper drawer for up to a week. 

Fun artichoke fact: 

Artichokes contain an acid called cynarin which makes other foods taste sweeter. Because they throw your palate a little out of whack, they’re notoriously difficult to pair with wine.