Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Cardoons are the leaf stalks of Cynara cardunculus, the Mediterranean plant from which the artichoke (C. scolymus) apparently descends; the stalks are often covered for several weeks before harvest to protect them from sunlight, or blanch them. Cardoons have a flavor quite similar to the artichoke’s, and are abundantly endowed with astringent, bitter phenolic compounds that quickly form brown complexes when the tissue is cut or damaged. They’re often cooked in milk, whose proteins bind phenolic compounds and can reduce astringency (as in tea). Phenolics can also cause a toughening of cell walls, and cardoon fibers are often remarkably resistant to softening. Bringing them to a gradual boil in several changes of water can help leach out phenolics and soften them, though flavor is leached out as well. Sometimes it’s necessary to peel the reinforcing fibers from the cardoon stalk, or cut it into thin cross sections to keep the fibers relatively short and inconspicuous.