Once considered exotic by many Americans, artichokes are becoming a much more common mainstay thanks to their exquisite flavor and versatile culinary uses. Artichokes are frequent ingredients in a variety of dips, tasty components in many salads, popular side dishes, and sometimes even main courses. As with most other types of vegetables and produce the taste, quality, and nutritional value of artichokes is strongly influenced by cooling and storage.
General Facts About Artichokes
The artichoke is a species of thistle that has been cultivated for hundreds of years into the edible vegetable we know today. The domesticated plant is called the globe artichoke, while the wild variety is commonly called a cardoon. Artichokes are native of the Mediterranean region and as such have been cultivated and enjoyed by several prominent ancient societies including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The Greeks referred to them as “kaktos” while the Romans called them “carduus,” from which their wild name, cardoon, derived.
The artichoke came to the United States in the 19th century when the French introduced it to to Louisiana. Around the same time the Spanish also introduced it to California. Nowadays most of the US supply of artichokes comes from California, which has a suitable climate for crop growth. However, new cultivars such as the “Imperial Star” and the “Northern Star” have
allowed the artichoke to grow further north and in more regions.
Today the artichoke is highly regarded both for its flavor and culinary uses as well as its nutritional value. It has one of the highest antioxidant contents of all vegetables and is known to help improve cholesterol and aid in digestion. Artichokes flowers can also be used to make herbal tea and artichokes are even one of the primary ingredients in an Italian liqueur known as Cynar.
General Information About Cooling and Storing Artichokes
Artichokes are harvested primarily in spring with another peak harvest taking place in autumn. The artichoke plant grows to a height of about 4.5 to 6.5 feet and is cut such that the bulb of the plant and several inches of stem are taken. From there there are several key factors that affect cooling and storage.
Temperature – Artichokes should be pre-cooled to a temperature of at least 41°F or lower within 24 hours of harvest for maximum quality retention. They should then be cooled to a temperature of about 32°F or freezing. Though they are not overly sensitive to freeze damage, temperatures below 30°F should be avoided as there could be some damage or loss of quality.
Respiration and Degradation – Like many fruits and vegetables, artichokes respire and degrade at a faster right at higher temperature levels. Artichokes respire and release heat at about 8 times the rate at 68°F than they do at 32°F. Thus proper cooling and storage will significantly increase shelf life.
Relative Humidity – Artichokes do best at a relative humidity of about 95%. Lower humidity levels will result in moisture loss and a reduction of quality.
Storage and Shelf Life – Under ideal conditions artichokes will remain fresh and viable for about two to three weeks.
Methods of Cooling Artichokes
Because the temperature at which artichokes are initially cooled and stored is so important, and because their temperature should be lowered quickly for maximum quality preservation, basic room cooling is not ideal. That is because room cooling alone does not cool the artichokes quickly enough and depending on conditions may not ever be sufficient to lower their temperatures to proper levels. Instead the following cooling methods are recommended:
Forced-Air Cooling – Forced-air cooling involves placing the artichokes in a refrigerated room or cooler; however, with the addition of specially designed fans that pull cool air through the artichokes. This dramatically shortens the amount of time it takes to cool them.
Hydrocooling – Hydrocooling involves rapidly lowering the artichokes’ temperature by submerging them in near-freezing water.
Packing Ice – Artichokes can also benefit from the cooling effects of being placed in direct contact with packing ice.
Semco provides high quality, industrial cooling and storage solutions for maintaining artichoke quality. Our systems can be customized to fit the commercial needs of our customers and to preserve the taste and quality of artichokes. Our goal is to help our customers bring only the best quality, healthiest, and most delicious artichokes to the end consumer.