HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


What does fiddlehead taste like?

I saw these at the market the other day, and I've looked on the home cooking board to see how people prepare them.

But, dear hounds, what do they taste like?

They look furry and pod-like, and remind me of okra. Would the taste be similar? Are they slimy, crunchy, grassy, sweet, bitter, what?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. they taste a bit like green beans and are crunchy. their season is extremely short.

    1. They have a rich taste -- I wouldn't have characterized the taste as being similar to green beans. I don't like them too crunchy-- perhaps a tiny bit past el dente. They are good plain with butter and cider or wine vinegar and a bit of pepper. Wash them well and change the water after they first come to a boil ( that's what my mother always does).

      1. I thought they tasted bitter like asparpagus, but much stronger.

        1 Reply
        1. re: coll

          Me too - I wasn't actually crazy about them myself and I love vegetables.

        2. i like mine sauteed w/garlic and a little butter...texture is like asparagus but more bitter sorta like mustard greens. just don't over cook!

          1. I've never understood the allure of fiddleheads, which are actually immature fern fronds. I suppose it's the cute shape. I find them vaguely asparagus like but not nearly as good tasting. They are finicky to prepare (must remove scales) and spoil quickly. If you don't overcook them, they can cause stomach cramps and other food-poisoning symptoms in some people. There is at least some suspicion that they may be carcinogenic.

            7 Replies
            1. re: embee

              In northern New England fiddleheads and dandelion greens were among the first greens of spring. After all that snow, you'd eat almost anything green. I like fiddlehead pickles a lot.

              1. re: embee

                how on earth could they be carcinogenic? people have been eating them for centuries.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  Growing up in Nova Scotia Fiddleheads were a staple every spring. I find the taste very earthy. Sutee them w/ a very light olive oil, garlic and shallot...a sprig of mint or dill will lighten them up.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Apparently many ferns produce "fiddleheads" in the spring and some of these are toxic and/or carcinogenic. As with some types of mushrooms, a non-expert forager would not be able to differentiate safe varieties from potentially dangerous ones. Even the safe varieties are known to cause "food poisoning" type symptoms in some people, though scientists don't seem to have figured out why this happens. References are available, but you'll need to hunt them up yourself if you want details.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      Though there are a a few variations, fiddleheads come from the Ostrich Fern. The east coast variety is slightly smaller and starts growing slightly earlier. it is not as bright green throughout its growing season- indeed, they can be brown and slightly scaly. The west coast version is a bit more succulent looking- smoother and greener.
                      Both, however, have potential health risks. The ostrich fern has a slightly waxy surface as it matures as a natural repellant to herbivores and insects. If I remember correctly, the leaves (which at this point are tiny feathers) have a light fuzz that is also an irritant- again while mature. Other species of ostrich fern are downright dangerous to eat at any stage.
                      I think the fear of the fern is like lumping tomatoes and eggplants in with deadly nightshade- yes, they're all belladonna, but as long as you're not eating the leaves, stems, and skins in huge quantities, it would take tons to have any serious effects.

                      1. re: lunchbox

                        Have gotten them at the local farmers' markets here in Portland. Sort of a strong rustic green been flavor. I stirfry with garlic, shiitake, and leeks! Crunchy, not at all like okra.

                    2. re: embee

                      Only certain varieties are "thought" to be carcinogenic although there has been no real evidence of anyone getting cancer from them.

                      They look like okra which I don't like so I've pretty much stayed away from them. Since people say they don't, I still may not try them because they sound like a pain in the arse to prepare and don't keep well. I like my veggies hearty and can withstand being in the fridge for at least a week.

                    3. Earthy, like tree ear mushrooms, even savory or meaty.
                      Yes, a bit like asparagus, but more fibrous and much thinner. Satisfyingly crunchy, sometimes chewy. Not slimy like okra. There is a bit of sweetness as well as bitterness.

                      People who like mushrooms tend to like it. I do.

                      1. I don't think fiddleheads taste similar to anything else I know...When I was growing up in the West coast we would go pick them in the spring time as we hunt for mushrooms. (I think it'd be coral mushrooms around this time). The ones we pick are never as tough as the ones you get in the market.

                        Before the butter craze, (and when we're still more Chinese than American) we always cooked them with lots and lots of oil, and something sour like the Chinese pickled mustard greens酸菜 and garlic. Somehow, both the large amount of oil and the something sour ( I've used sauerkraut when out of the pickled mustard greens) are necessary to counter whatever is inherent in the fiddlehead. I think aside from cleaning you out, it's probably pretty alkaline (sorry, I'm not sure of the technical terms here) in nature. So, without enough oil the fiddlehead not only wouldn't taste good, it would probably give you a stomach ache.

                        If you don't want to use that much oil, blanching it first will also make it less of a oil quencher. Sautee with butter or Olive Oil and garlic is pretty heavenly, too.

                        As for the variety, I know that there's another kind that the Japanese like to pickle. The ones I've tried have an almond (not the nuts for eating, but the heavier scent for flavoring, the tiny small white kernels) scent that always reminded me of arsenic. Not as hearty in taste or texture.

                        1. i'm wondering as they lose freshnes after harvesting, do they become more bitter. and seeing now how many different varieties exist, i can only assume they each taste a bit different.

                          1. Green and slightly bitter ... I didn't feel the need to have them more than once.

                            1. They don't taste like anything else that I can think of though one poster came somewhat close with bitter greens but only in taste, not texture. Even that isn't that really close, maybe a very distant cousin. They are somewhat crunchy, depending on how you cook them. I love them and can only find them for about a week two here. When they are in season I could eat them practically every day.

                              I blanch them and then sauté in some butter, olive oil and lots of garlic.

                              1. They actually have a unique flavor. If they are too old, they get that bean/asparagus flavor. If fresh, they have an earthy flavor unlike anything else. Salt water quick boil is best. It's like trying to describe loroco's flowers, they are their own flavor.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: law_doc89

                                  Beans/asparagus? Not getting that. For me (only), I find the two totally different. Not fond of beans, love asparagus. Shiver.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Well, if you buy fiddleheads that are too old, that is what you will experience.

                                    1. re: law_doc89

                                      Sorry. My point is that I don't think beans and asparagus have any flavor components in common so saying they get the flavor doesn't tell ME anything. Asparagus? Super. Bring 'em on. Beans? Nah.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Well, just imagine mixing the two together, and you will have it. That is the point of fiddle heads that are too old.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          I think the asparagus comparison is being made to reflect the slight bitterness, and green beans, the greenness, texture, and mouthfeel (circumference is similar if you straightened out the fiddlehead). Each is reflecting completely different aspects of the fiddlehead. Agree about the earthiness too ... are fiddleheads typically wild? Wondering if that's why we don't really have a comparison point for that flavor aspect ...

                                          1. re: foiegras

                                            And, of course, the flavor is ultimately unique. So only experience will do ultimately, as with Loroco's flowers. When I see these in the stores, I buy em, cook em, eat em, enjoy em.

                                            It's sort of similar to the lobster / chicken comparisons. Yeah, sort of.

                                  2. Have only seen them in supermrket ONE time!?! They were relativey inexpensive and decided to give them a try. Toss a few handfuls into a bag...at check-out, they had NO idea what they even were. I just sauteed in a little butter and garlic (or maybe it was olive oil?), and a little S&P. I'd say the flavor wasa BIT like asparagus. They were fine, just not somethig I'd probably get a craving for!?!

                                    1. 6 year old thread...well my 2c;
                                      I find fiddleheads taste like a cross between green beans, asparagus, and rapini with a heavy dose of dirt-floor basement mustiness.