Opinion: artichokes, California’s pride

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Opinion: artichokes, California’s pride

By Frieda’s Specialty Produce CEO Karen Caplan

KarenCaplan_2013-columnLast year, the state of California announced the artichoke as its official vegetable. As a native Californian and an artichoke lover, I was ecstatic to hear the news!

Artichokes are grown around the world with Italy, Egypt, and Spain as the top artichoke-producing countries. Almost 100% of the artichokes grown commercially in the U.S. are produced in California, according to the California Artichoke Advisory Board. No other commodity in the state can claim that title. The total crop value of artichokes for the 2007-2008 season, grown on more than 7,770 acres, was over US$50 million.

So it is only fitting that they are our state's crowning glory.

California’s central coast provides the optimum condition for these edible thistles. The mild climate produces some of the world’s most flavorful artichokes. While the city of Castroville is the self-proclaimed "Artichoke Center of the World," artichokes are also grown 200 miles south in the city of Lompoc, and all the way down the coast in the Imperial Valley in San Diego County. They are also cultivated in limited production in Washington and Oregon. Even Texas has gotten in on the artichoke game in recent years.


Sangria artichoke

There are several varieties of artichokes aside from the most familiar Green Globe. Growers at Baroda Farms in Lompoc collaborated with French and Italian breeders to develop three varieties of gorgeous and delicious thistles for a unique flavor profile, and rich, meaty leaves: Sangria artichokes, Fiore Viola artichokes and Fiesole Baby Purple artichokes.

We at Frieda’s have the pleasure of exclusively distributing these specialty artichokes and introducing them to America’s dinner tables.

The Sangria artichoke has a deep burgundy color, pointed shape, and meaty leaves with nutty and earthy flavors. Always in demand, we are sold out of the jumbo-size Sangria two years in a row!

The Fiore Viola artichoke has a deep purple color and a round shape. Their meaty leaves have a sweeter artichoke flavor. They are a bit heavier than the Sangria Artichokes of about the same size, but that's because the leaves are more tightly packed.


Fiesole Baby Purple artichokes

The Fiesole (fee-eh-so-lay) Baby Purple artichokes are about the size of a large egg. These little ones are also very popular with consumers as they are almost entirely edible—they have no inner choke like their bigger cousins do.

The red Sangria artichokes and purple Fiore Viola artichokes are in season now through May. The Fiesole Baby Purple artichokes are projected to be available late March or early April.

It’s easy to love artichokes once you've had them, but for many first-timers, preparing and eating the artichokes can be quite a daunting task—even the baby ones.

I understand why! Most cooks are intimidated at first by all the thistle leaves and the infamous "choke," the inedible part in the middle that you have to get through to reach the prized artichoke heart. But once they have prepared an artichoke and experienced the delectable taste, they become fans.

At Frieda’s, we are doing our part to encourage artichoke consumption with our YouTube video and simple recipes that educate consumers on how to select and cook artichokes. We’re converting new artichoke fans every day online!

Specialty artichokes, like Sangria, Fiore Viola and Fiesole, are quite a feast for the eyes and even more so for the taste buds as they're bred specifically to have superior flavor. Their appeal goes even deeper; artichokes are also popular for their health benefits. Excellent sources of fiber and vitamin C, and rich in folate, they are deservedly a key food item in a heart-healthy, Mediterranean diet. Studies have also shown that cynarin, a compound in artichokes, may help reduce bad cholesterol, and relieve indigestion, acid reflux and other digestive ailments.

We hope you will love California’s pride and joy as much as we do!

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