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What are Cardoons?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cardoons are exotic, hard to find vegetables. Cardoons take their name from the French word chardon, which comes from the Latin carduus, meaning thistle. Once described as celery on steroids, cardoons are very similar to artichokes.

The stalks of cardoons are ribbed and can grow up to around 22 inches (55 cm) long, and the color can range from white to a pale green. The vegetable has a flowering head, and its appearance is a cross between a thistle and an artichoke. However, the flower buds of the cardoon cannot be eaten.

Cardoons are winter vegetables that can continue growing into the spring. However, they are primarily cold weather vegetables, and the spring warmth affects their taste. Warm weather will make the cardoon taste bitter.

The best time to eat cardoons is when they are young and tender. You can eat them raw when young, but if the stalks are older, you will need to cook them first. Cardoons can also be used in dips, sauces, stews, salads, or even as breaded starters.

There are two varieties of cardoon. The lunghi has long, straight stalks, and the gobbi has curved or bent stalks. The cardoon's origins are hazy, but the vegetable is thought to have originated in Italy, Spain, and Africa. It reached North America via England. Cardoons were recorded as being eaten in ancient Rome and Greece as a delicacy.

Cooking cardoons is a simple process. Simply cut off the base and leaves, then cut the stalks into pieces. Cardoons lose their color very quickly once subjected to air, so place the stalks in vinegar laced water. Boil the stalks for around 20 minutes until tender, adding salt to the water to remove any bitterness. Then simply drain, and peel off the surface of the stalks.

You can add precooked cardoons to a variety of dishes. They have a peppery flavor and are great mixed with mushrooms as a starter. Think of spicy Mediterranean recipes that are perfect for a cold winter night.

Cardoons are a largely undiscovered vegetable and quite difficult to find in supermarkets, but they are well used by chefs and restaurateurs who are first in line to grab them when they become available. Cardoons are becoming more popular as various varieties of the vegetable are grown. These include larger versions, such as Gigante di Romagna and Plein Blanc Inerma Ameliora.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon340144 — On Jun 30, 2013

"Gaduna" is the Sicilian way of saying cardoons.

By anon280383 — On Jul 17, 2012

I'd like to point out that cardoon buds are indeed edible, and quite good. I steam them, cut them in half and eat the small hearts. They remind me of the artichoke heart omelet I had in Florence and, in my opinion, have more flavor than regular artichoke hearts.

By anon63908 — On Feb 04, 2010

When I was a kid growing up in the Bethlehem, Penn. area, my Sicilian grandfather would take us out to the farm at a certain time of year to pick what he would jokingly call cardooners; they were also referred to as burdock.

I know they are not burdock, nor are they cardoons. I have described them as a plant looking like rhubarb, but green, maybe a little purple down at the base. They grew everywhere like weeds; they are weeds. They did not have to be pre-cooked, they were dipped in egg, breaded and fried. you could tell they were at the right stage of growth,(tenderness) by the feel of cutting into them, the way you can tell the feel of an asparagus or okra. If picked too late the outside stalks would have to be discarded.

By ivanka — On Jul 25, 2008

Cardoon needs a lot of space and effort to grow. It is a rather unusual vegetable, that needs plenty of water during the summer.

By anon629 — On Apr 30, 2007

I am looking for them too. My husband thinks he may have found some. Big elephant ear looking plants. You eat only the stalks though. We cut them up, boil them in salt water, drain, then saute' in olive oil with bread crumbs, fresh garlic & parmesean and you can also scramble an egg in it. This is the Sicilian way of cooking them. They are usually available in the spring. Also, when they are not available and/or in season, we also cook asparags the same way. Interestingly, they have similar taste. Good Luck!

By anon343 — On Apr 22, 2007

I am looking for a picture of cardoons, We have a plant that grows in our area that lloks like rubarb and it grows in the spring, I think some othe guys call it gaduna and they usually boil it and then bread it and then fry it. Has anyone ever heard of this

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