Generality

Artichokes are herbaceous plants typical of the Mediterranean basin (in Italy, they are mainly found in the Centre-South) they belong to the Asteraceae family, Cichorioidae subfamily, Cynara genus and Cardunculus species ; the most widespread subspecies is the scolymus . Ultimately, the trinomial nomenclature of common artichokes corresponds to Cynara cardunculus scolymus .
Artichokes are vegetables whose inflorescences (immature flower heads, therefore harvested before their flowers bloom) and their respective stems are mainly consumed.

These are plant foods but, unlike other vegetables, they contain a greater quantity of proteins than carbohydrates ; this characteristic, associated with an excellent fiber content (especially inulin – viscous fibre ), should give artichokes a very low glycemic index (a useful quality in controlling insulin for diabetics and the obese ). Furthermore, thanks to the content of other molecules that are very useful to the body, artichokes represent the raw extraction material for some food supplements and pharmacological products.

The edible portion is obtained from the long floral scapes (inflorescence + stem, see figure) that the plant produces in autumn or spring (always depending on the variety of artichokes in question).

Artichokes MUST be picked as long as they fully retain all their organoleptic and gustatory characteristics : the bracts (which are a kind of external petals, improperly called “leaves”) must NEVER become hard and the internal flowers must NEVER fully develop.

Description

From a structural point of view, the artichoke is characterized by an enlarged, fleshy and juicy basal floral portion ( the heart ), protected by scale-shaped bracts which, depending on the variety, end or not with a sting (thorns). These bracts, which become increasingly fibrous and less edible from the inside out (so much so that they are discarded before or after cooking) surround an inedible “beard” (the pappus).

  • The edible part of the artichoke is therefore given by the lower portions of the involucral bracts and the receptacle. In some preparations, the stem is made edible once the harder, stringy outer bark has been removed.

The leaves, up to 80cm long, are green or tending towards purple with gray reflections and grouped in small “bunches”; they also end with a thorn. It is precisely the large toothed leaves that garnish the caule (stem) that represent the part of the artichoke that is effective from a medical/officinal point of view.

All artichokes cultivated today are the result of the differentiation of a single species, the Cynara cardunculus or carduccio , of which the following are consumed: the scales, the calyx and the soft portions of the stem.

Background

Artichokes are vegetables known since ancient times. The first finds indicate that the Egyptian civilization was among the first to appreciate its taste and medicinal properties, giving it the name Kynara . The Arabs called them kharshaf and already in the 4th century BC they mastered their cultivation. The Greek botanist Theophrastus grouped it in the Composites in the 4th century BC and also Lucio Columella, in the work “De Rustica”, suggests the cultivation of the flower. Pliny the Elder, writing the “Naturalis Historia”, mentions it with the name of cardus. The first Italian cultivations, from the 15th century AD, can be traced back to the Neapolitan territory thanks to the merchant Filippo Strozzi who allowed its spread in Tuscany and then elsewhere. The Latin wording was the work of Linnaeus who carefully considered the ashen color of the leaves for the choice of the genus and the thorniness of the same for the species: Cynara scolymus .

Variety

Artichokes, like many other vegetables, constitute a large group of varieties differing in terms of: appearance, origin, seasonality, organoleptic -taste characteristics and culinary applications. Below we will list some of the best known on the Italian peninsula.

Artichokes from Campidano

it is a Sardinian variety produced in the Campidano area of ​​Cagliari and in the Sulcis area of ​​Sassari. These artichokes have a pointed tip that ends in a yellow thorn; the external bracts are green shaded in violet-brown; the taste is bitter as they contain high concentrations of cynarin.

Artichokes from the Livorno coast

it is a Tuscan variety produced in the Livorno area. These artichokes have medium-sized, elongated, ellipsoidal flower heads with bitter purple external bracts; the innermost ones are very light and sweet.

Artichokes from Vastese

it is an Abruzzo variety grown in the Vupello and San Salvo area. These artichokes are totally free of thorns or hair, therefore they belong to the Romanesco group. They have a late cycle and the flower head is spherical and purple-green.

Artichokes from Castellamare

it is a variety from Campania also belonging to the Romanesco group, characterized by very soft internal leaves and a heart. These artichokes have no thorns and have a compact, spherical head with green external bracts and violet hues.

Chiusure artichokes

it is a Tuscan variety from the Monte Oliveto area, in particular from Chiusure (Asciano); these artichokes are currently very rare, almost extinct. They have a tapered shape, dark colour, compact and robust flower head with wine-coloured leaves. The leaves are tender and the flavor is very characteristic.

Artichokes of Paestum PGI

it is a Campania variety from the Piana del Sele which obtained recognition in 2004. These artichokes belong to the Romanesco group and are characterized by: earliness, round, compact and large flower head with fleshy bracts. They are dark green with purple hues; they are free of thorns.

Artichokes from Pian di Rocca

it is a Tuscan variety available in the municipality from which it takes its name (up to Grosseto). These artichokes are intense green tending towards purple, with an elongated and vaguely ellipsoidal shape. The flower head is small, compact with tender but bitter bracts.

Sezze artichokes

it is an early Lazio variety of the Romanesque group; these artichokes have a rounded shape and a green color tending towards grey-violet. The flower head is compact and with an opening at the apex.

Empoli artichokes

it is a late Tuscan variety from the area of ​​the same name. These artichokes are intense green tending towards purple with an almost cylindrical shape and bracts without thorns; the consistency is soft and the flavor is bitter-sweet.

Monteluponese artichokes

it is a very delicious and thornless variety from the Marche region.

Roman artichokes from Lazio PGI

it is a late Lazio variety from Viterbo, Rome and Latina which obtained recognition in 2002. These artichokes are characterized by large globose flower heads with a central hole, green-purple and soft bracts.

Spiny artichoke from Palermo

it is a late Sicilian variety with an ovoid, tapered flower head and spiny bracts.

Violet spiny artichoke from Albenga

it is a Ligurian variety with a conical flower head and long stem; the leaves are green faded to brown-violet with yellow thorns.

Violet artichoke from Catania

it is a Sicilian variety with a cylindrical flower head and bracts without thorns, green and with purple shades.

Violet artichoke of Sant’Erasmo

it is a Venetian variety from the island of Sant’Erasmo, alle Vignole, Lio Piccolo, Malamocco and Mazzorbo. These artichokes have elongated heads with dark green, tender and fleshy spiny bracts.

Violet artichoke from Jesi

it is an early variety from the Marche region with an elongated flower head and green-purple bracts but without thorns.

Officinal and nutritional characteristics

Artichokes promote renal filtration and can be defined as diuretics ; furthermore, the high cynarin content (also extractable from the leaves in infusion ) has a detoxifying effect on the liver , increases bile flow and improves cholesterol levels . The high quantity of fiber ( in particular inulin ) gives the artichoke its preventive-curative properties for constipation and glycemic – insulin modulator . It seems that artichoke extracts also boast digestive properties . Curiously, the protein intake of artichokes is higher than the carbohydrate intake , while the lipid intake is – similar to other vegetables – “almost” zero. Being a vegetable, the biological value of artichokes is low, with a prevalence of amino acids : ac. aspartic, ac. glutamate, leucine and arginine . As far as vitamins are concerned , artichokes contain “a bit of everything” ( thiamine , riboflavin , niacin , ascorbic acid and carotenoids ) but not in EXCEPTIONAL concentrations; on the contrary, as regards mineral salts , good levels of: iron (Fe), calcium (Ca), sodium (Na – also present in excess in the Western diet) and potassium (K) are highlighted .

 

Nutritional composition of Artichokes – Reference values ​​of the INRAN Food Composition Tables

 

Chemical composition and energy value of foods per 100g of edible portion Artichokes, raw Artichokes, boiled Artichokes, frozen , raw
Edible part 34% 100% 100%
Waterfall 91.3g 67.5g – g
Proteins 2.7g 10.1g 2.7g
Lipids TOT 0.2g 0.7g 0.2g
Saturated fatty acids – g – g – g
Monounsaturated fatty acids – g – g – g
Polyunsaturated fatty acids – g – g – g
Cholesterol 0.0mg 0.0mg 0.0mg
TOT carbohydrates 2.5g 9.3g 2.5g
Starch 0.5g 1.8g – g
Soluble sugars 1.9g 7.1g – g
Dietary fibre 5.5g 7.9g 5.0g
Power 22.0kcal 82.0kcal 22.0kcal
Sodium 133.0mg – mg – mg
Potassium 376.0mg – mg – mg
Iron 1.0mg – mg – mg
Soccer 86.0mg – mg – mg
Phosphorus 67.0mg – mg – mg
Thiamine 0.06mg – mg – mg
Riboflavin 0.10mg – mg – mg
Niacin 0.5mg – mg – mg
Vitamin A 18.0µg – µg 18.0µg
C vitamin 12.0mg 5.0mg 10.0mg
Vitamin E – mg – mg – mg

 

Bibliography

  • Fruit and vegetables in Italy – Touring club Italiano – page 56:59.