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the sharp thorns on the tip of artichoke leaves...

ok, this is probably a ridiculously stupid question, but we had artichokes for dinner last night, and everytime I prepare them, I think about it, and last night I swore to myself that I would finally ask the hounds:

So, the sharp thorn-like tips on the edge of the artichoke leaf (that one trims off with one's kitchen scissors); do all varieties of artichokes have them? (how many varieties of artichoke are there, anyway?) Are they the sign of an overly mature artichoke? (the ones I ate last night were fairly big).

I ask because I've been preparing artichokes for years but it is only in the past few years that I have felt a need to trip those points (or at least that I can recall feeling a need to trim the points). Previously, (as far as I can remember) my trimming consisted merely of cutting off the stem and pulling off a very few of the outer leaves (but not all the way to the top of the choke, and last night there were sharp thorns on all but the very top few leaves). I am certain I didn't trim them with kitchen scissors when I was younger. Heck, I doubt if I even owned kitchen scissors when I was younger.

I'd hate to think I was endangering the mouths of my dinner guests all those years, but can't figure out any reason that the choke would have changed, so perhaps my sensibilities did?'

Any insight welcome!

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  1. I can see how those tips could harm a guest's fingers, but the mouth? I don't eat that end of the leaf.

    Artichokes are a type of thistle, so it shouldn't be surprising that some have sharp points.

    2 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      My only fear of artichokes is that they often cost $4 a throw.

      1. re: paulj

        well, yes, you eat the other side, but it still could scrape your mouth (or fingers) if you weren't careful, particularly if the leaf wasn't that big. and yes, I know they are a type of thistle, but I can't figure out why I never noticed the thorns till relatively recently (and now they all have the thorns).

        Sigh, no real answers to my stupid question. I guess that means either no one else knows the answer either, or I just was oblivious to the thorns until I passed fifty....

      2. This isn't a stupid question. I've been addled by the thorns myself. I know you don't eat that side, but I'm such a klutz, and it's more a matter of serving other people. I'm afraid of pricking me and others, so I end up slicing at least the top off, but then we have the same problem w/ the inner leaves, and the further in you go, the higher likelihood of pricking, b/c the leaves get smaller. It's gotten to a point where I go to the farmer's market, and I will often not get artichokes, b/c I don't know what to do about the thorns. . .. I mean what do people with kids do?

        2 Replies
        1. re: anzu

          I've been eating artichokes since I've been able to eat solid food, the thorns aren't all that much of a problem if you're paying attention.

          1. re: rockfish42

            agree with rockfish. as a kid artichokes were the greatest because it was food your parents MADE you play with. pulling it apart piece by piece, dipping it in sauce, scraping it between your teeth, the discard pile.... all followed by attacking the heart, getting rid of the fuzz. and part of that was being aware of/careful of the thorns. sure i got poked once or twice, but these are hardly huge poisoned darts, they are little thorns in a consistent location. I got poked a lot more working in a florist de-thorning roses. it's kind of like sewing... after you poke yourself a couple of times you learn to be careful.

        2. I am well over fifty and have not noticed any difference. I just cut the entire end off with a knife before cooking. It is easier but messier after cooking.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sinicle

            My mother did this, and so do I. Cut off the end and then cut off the rest of the thorns with kitchen shears. It doesn't take that much longer and you don't get stabbed.

          2. If you weren't stabbing yourself while preparing them, then you probably weren't endangering your guests by serving them. Regardless, it probably has to do with the variety you're used to getting.

            According to artichokes.org, there are four major varieties of the plant: the Green Globe (with thorns that are prominent, but less so in the winter and spring), the Desert Globe (with thorns that are not prominent), and two thornless varieties, the Big Heart and the Imperial Star.

            There was a thread a while back where some folks complained that the thornless varieties lack flavor. Me, I never met an artichoke I didn't like.

            2 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes

              actually, I have stabbed myself while preparing them...guess I am unusually clumsy! :-( . But thanks for the input. Did a search but couldn't find that thread....do you have a link?

              1. re: susancinsf

                Me too. Which leads us to a new question: why does an artichoke wound hurt so much more than a simple pinprick?

                I bought a big bag of little 'chokes at a local farmers market earlier this year, and they seemed to be about 25% thorns by weight. But they were 10 or 20 for a dollar, and quite tasty, so I couldn't complain. (Actually I could, but nobody would listen).

                Anyway, here's the thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/496189

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                I snip the tops, but my parents never did.. I must be a member of the wuss generation. I just want to make this wondrous veggie accessible to the masses.

              2. I never cut the tips off the artichoke leaf. That takes away my handhold for eating the leaf! Also, I have found that the thornless varieties do not cook evenly, hence I have learned not to buy them. Unfortunately, there are more and more of them in the markets these days.

                1. I don't buy artichokes, but I grow my own. The ends of the leaves on my chokes actually curl under at the top. If you don't cut the top off, then you probably would be pricking yourself while eating them. Plus it would make it much harder to clean them, and when you are growing your own, you have to really clean them.

                  1. I'm, um, over 50 and I don't trim the points. I did a couple of times and it wasn't even close to being worth the effort. Mmmmmm...

                    1. I snip when serving to guests, only because it's a cleaner presentation, but I never do it when it's for my own consumption. I wouldn't worry, though. If you were serving whole sardines would you be agonizing over the bones? Real food comes with hazards and guests who appreciate that you're not just serving pre-cut, pre-trimmed, processed and/or pre-packaged foods. It's sweet of you to worry, though, and I suspect this sort of care is obvious in the quality of the food you give your guests.

                      As an FYI, they do breed thornless artichokes, but every time I've tried them I've been disappointed. They have a diluted, watery taste to them in comparison to regular globe artichokes.