The globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus L.), usually just called “artichoke,” originated in the Mediterranean region. This herbaceous, thistle-like plant is produced for its immature, edible flower buds. The thorny green globe-shaped vegetable was first brought to the United States in the 1800s, where it was grown in Louisiana by French settlers and in California by Spanish immigrants.
Today, artichokes are sold fresh, frozen, or canned, often in the form of marinated artichoke hearts. When cooked without seasoning, the vegetable’s tender petals carry a subtle flavor often compared to the taste of fried egg white.
Italy is the world’s largest producer, followed by Egypt, Spain, and Peru. In the United States, commercial production is limited almost exclusively to California, where artichokes are the official state vegetable. Production ranges from Marin to Santa Barbara counties, with Monterey County topping volume. Castroville is called the Artichoke Capital of the state and hosts an annual festival. Washington and Oregon also grow artichokes, but in lesser quantities.
Types & Varieties
There are two primary varietal classifications of globe artichokes. The Italian type, or Green Globe (also known as Heirloom), is the most popular, and has a long, somewhat pointed bud. Globe artichokes should not be confused with the root crop known as the Jerusalem artichoke.
The second variety, the French type, has a short, thick, rounded bud with a flat end and is not as marketable due to lower yields and packing challenges.
California’s Green Globe artichokes are planted as a seasonal, slow-growing perennial and take nine months to mature from multishoot rootstock. Annual varieties are cultivated through transplants or direct seeding, have a single producing stalk, and thrive in the state’s coastal regions. Varieties include the Imperial Star, Desert Globe, and Big Heart.