Artichokes are a healthy vegetable with nutrients found in their leaves, stem, and heart. It is low in fat, rich in fiber, and contains vitamins and minerals such as vitamin K, vitamin C, fiber, and many other nutrients. Since artichokes are seasonal during spring and late autumn, they tend to become more expensive during their off-season. Moreover, artichokes are not always readily available outside of Europe and the United States.
As a fresh vegetable, it also spoils quite easily. Typical ways to preserve artichokes are through canning or pickling. Another way to preserve and extend the shelf life of artichokes is through freezing. However, fresh artichokes should not be frozen in the same way fresh fruit is frozen. Freezing uncooked artichokes will result in browning as it thaws due to oxidation, especially when its leaves and stems are removed. Thawed out, raw artichokes also result in an unpleasant taste after it is cooked.
Preparing Artichokes for Freezing
On the other hand, cooked artichokes and preserved artichokes can be kept in the freezer. The first step is to prepare the artichokes by removing the external hard parts such as the leaves, the fuzzy choke, and the stem surrounding the heart, or the pale-colored inner leaves called bracts. The heart can be kept whole or chopped into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
The artichoke hearts should then be submerged in tepid or cold water to prevent discoloration from oxidation. It will also remove any dirt that may be inside the artichoke hearts. Before blanching the artichokes, ensure that you have an ice bath ready next to a boiling pot of water so that the hearts will not be overcooked.
Next, blanch the artichokes in boiling water with acid to avoid discoloration. Lemon juice or ascorbic acid would be ideal at ½ cup lemon juice or 1 tablespoon of ascorbic acid per two quarts of water.
Smaller artichoke hearts can be blanched between three to five minutes while larger pieces can be blanched for up to seven minutes. If artichoke hearts are blanched whole, slicing a small hole into the base of the artichoke will ensure even blanching. Immediately place the blanched artichokes into the ice bath to prevent further cooking. Drain in a colander and leave to dry or pat dry with a clean towel or paper towels.
There are two main methods to store blanched artichokes in the freezer.
The first option is to flash freeze the artichoke hearts on a baking tray to prevent the pieces from clumping together in the container. Once frozen, place them into a heavy-duty sealable bag or a freezer-safe container with an airtight lid. This method also makes it easier to grab smaller portions of artichokes without thawing the entire batch.
The second method is to transfer the dried artichokes into freezer-safe containers directly. Heavy-duty aluminum foil can also be used, but ensure that it is sealed properly to prevent freezer burn or from absorbing unwanted flavors or odors.
Date and label the containers before storing them in the freezer. Frozen, blanched artichokes can be stored in the freezer between six and eight months. The artichokes may not be completely spoiled after eight months of storage in the freezer, but the quality will have slightly deteriorated.
High-quality, freshly picked artichokes that have been blanched can last in the freezer for up to 12 months.
Thawing and Reheating
To thaw the frozen artichokes, prepare a pot for steaming. Unlike other frozen foods, artichokes do not need to be thawed overnight in the refrigerator or left on the counter before reheating. The frozen artichokes – if not already stored in aluminum foil – can be wrapped in heavy-duty foil and placed over steaming water until thawed. The artichoke hearts are then ready to be added to other dishes. It can also be cooked as desired or eaten as-is with a little seasoning or butter.
Left on the counter, artichokes will keep between one to four days depending on how fresh the vegetables are. Fresh artichokes can also be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. To prevent oxidation, leave the artichokes whole, unpeeled, and uncut. Place in an airtight container or sealable bag with a small amount of water to keep them fresh.
Reasons to Keep Artichokes All Year Round
As mentioned earlier, artichokes are packed with over 15 nutrients ranging from Vitamin C to zinc. One medium artichoke of about 120 grams when cooked contains 15% of the daily recommended intake (RDI) of Vitamin C, 22% of the Vitamin K RDI, and 27% of the RDI of folate. With only 60 calories per medium artichoke, it is also a good source of protein (4 grams) and contains 7 grams of fiber.
Artichokes as a plant-based source of protein are a great alternative to red or white meat as well. Moreover, artichokes contain a fiber called inulin which is also a prebiotic. Prebiotics promote good bacteria in the gut, improving overall digestion and relief from bloating, nausea, or other forms of indigestion.
Artichokes are also rich in antioxidants which prevent harmful compounds from damaging cells. Two antioxidants identified in artichokes are cynarin and silymarin. Cynarin is a sought-after medicinal property of artichokes that have been associated with improving liver health while promoting the growth of new tissue. It is also associated with improving the digestion of fats and improving gut movement. The antioxidants also encourage the production of bile acids which removes toxins from the liver.
A study by Italian researchers revealed that artichoke leaf extract increases good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, while lowering bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol). LDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart problems such as cancer and stroke. Regular consumption of artichokes also helps regulate HDL cholesterol.