Artichoke hearts are like pearls in an oyster, dolls in a LOL Surprise!, olives in a martini. It is the distinguished bite between the layers and layers of thick, fibrous leaves.
It’s fun to peel artichoke leaves one by one, while you work through the heart to leisurely savor the tender flesh of the leaves. But artichoke fans often want a shortcut—a jar of tender, pickled artichoke hearts.
Low in calories, high in vitamins C and A, and packed with flavor, pickled artichokes are instant flavor enhancers in salads, pasta, chicken and eggs — and are incredibly popular as the main ingredient in hot party dips, which Explains why many store shelves are artichoke-free this time of year.
To the uneducated, an artichoke is actually a flower. The leaves are erect around an inconspicuous center, located at the apex of an edible heart. Ideally, only the young, tender heart and the tiny leaves around it go into the jar of pickled artichoke hearts.
Great pickled artichoke hearts are bright and herby and have such a pleasant balance of salt and vinegar that it’s hard to resist eating them straight out of the jar. They are carefully crafted, including only the tender parts of the flower.
Bad artichoke hearts are overseasoned and drowned in a sharp splash of hard, sore-throat vinegar. The worst include inedible, fibrous leaves that are impossible to cut with a knife—and scratching the throat while going down.
Here’s the scoop on the best pickled artichoke hearts on supermarket shelves and the chewy, sour ones to skip. The nutrition description refers to about 1 ounce, or two to three hearts, depending on the size.
Kirkland Signature Artichoke Hearts
Fans of fresh artichokes will fall for these toothsome hearts, which include a mix of quarters and halves. They offer big artichoke flavor and a delicate hit of herbs and vinegar. 20 calories, 1.5 g fat, 75 mg sodium. $11.79 for two 33-ounce jars at Costco. (4 stars)
Trader Joe’s Marinated Grilled Artichoke Halves
Full of clean, fresh-roasted artichoke flavor, these extra-large hearts feature long, elegant stems, making them perfect for serving as part of a relish or antipasto platter. 50 calories, 4 g fat, 210 mg sodium. $2.99 for 7.5 oz. (4 stars)
Reese’s Quartered Marinated Artichoke Hearts
These bright, almost crunchy hearts are lightly seasoned and have a touch of vinegar, which allows the artichoke flavor to shine. They are small, but delicious. 15 cal, .5 mg fat, 115 mg sodium, 1 g fiber. $1.68 for 7.5 oz at Walmart. (3½ stars)
First Street Marinated Artichoke Hearts
These long-stemmed hearts are cut longer than usual. They have good seasoning and are tender, but a bit over-spicy. 20 calories, 1.5 g fat, 140 mg sodium. Smart and Final 32 oz. (3 stars)
Marinated and Quartered Artichoke Hearts of Raleigh
These small, simple artichokes are well cooked and have a clean flavor due to less salt and vinegar, but their flavor is slightly flatter. 10 calories, fat content, 115 mg sodium. $2.85 for 6.5 oz. (2½ stars)
365 Whole Foods Pickled Artichoke Quarters
The bright, fresh artichoke flavor is a plus, but the chewy, inedible leaves on more than half the artichokes in this jar are unacceptable. 25 calories, 2 g fat, 90 mg sodium. $2.19 for 6.5 oz. (1½ stars)
Cara Mia California Style Artichoke Hearts
These deep, olive-colored hearts are overly vinegary, tangy and oily, resulting in fuzzy, unpleasant flavors. They are also prepared carelessly, as they have a lot of fibrous leaves. 25 calories, 2 g fat, 90 mg sodium. $3.12 for 14.75 oz at Walmart. (1 star)
Mazzetta Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Too many the wrong kinds of herbs and spices make the artichokes in this jar taste like Italian-style pickled vegetables. They are tender, but the artichoke flavor is lost. 25 calories, 2 g fat, 90 mg sodium. $5.99 for 14.5 oz at Safeway. (half star)
Centro Quartered and Marinated Artichokes
Oh, one bite of them is like gulping down a bottle of white vinegar. They are so wickedly sour that they have lost every hint of artichoke flavor. 35 calories, 3 g fat, 100 mg sodium. $4.99 for 12 oz at Raley’s. (no stars)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased from this newsletter or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thyme at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more Taste-Off columns at www.mercurynews.com/tag/taste-off.