The first time you are served up artichoke - whether it be roasted, boiled, or even as a pizza topping - you can be forgiven for questioning what you are about to eat. Looking a bit like the deformed layers of an onion, yet tasting infinitely better, the artichoke is actually the juvenile flower head of a cultivated thistle. Just so you know, the inside of the flower stem is edible, the base of the thick, leaf-like structures on the outside of the flower are also edible, as is the bottom, succulent part of the flower, called the heart. All the rest should be avoided.

The artichoke - Cynara cardunculus - has for centuries been considered as a true connoisseur’s food plant. In fact some of the more flavoursome varieties such as the Italian cultivar 'Violetto di Chioggia' were for a time only allowed to be eaten by the Italian aristocracy.

Although these delicately flavoured flower heads owe their history and cultivation to the Mediterranean regions of Southern Europe, its true origins are believed to have come from North Africa where they are still found in the wild state. Even its name, a derivation of the North Italian dialect word ‘art ciocco’, has its origins in the Arabic name for this plant - al-khars hof.
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