The spring is a great time of year to discover vegetables that are only available for a limited time. Among them are fiddleheads—also called fiddlehead ferns. Every time I cross fiddleheads at farmers’ markets or grocery stores, I can’t help myself. After all, they are a spring delicacy only available for a few weeks between late April and early May.
Fiddleheads are the edible, curled, young frond of a fern that is popular among foodies, food bloggers, and chefs. The curly fern is named after their unique resemblance to a violin, or a fiddle’s head. The taste of fiddleheads is also unique.
Some say fiddleheads have a grassy taste with a hint of nuttiness. Others note that the flavor is a cross between asparagus, greens beans, and spinach, along with a crunchy texture. Others argue that the flavor is similar to artichoke with a whiff of mushroom.
Whatever the exact flavor, fiddleheads are simply delicious and extremely nutrient-dense, while being loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B3, and manganese. The following article further details fiddlehead nutrition facts, its health benefits, and how to best cook them.
Facts and History of Fiddleheads
The fiddlehead fern (Matteuccia struthioreris) is a fern from the Dryopteridaceae plant family, and the genus Matteuccia Todaro. Fiddleheads are also called a crozier, which is named after the curved staff of bishops, and originated as a shepherd’s crook.
There are many types of fiddlehead ferns; however, the only edible and safe types include the ostrich and cinnamon ferns. Other varieties will look similar but may be poisonous. As mentioned, their season is very short, and you should harvest them before the fronds unfurl.
Fiddleheads thrive in well-drained soils and temperate climates and will grow in clusters on the banks of rivers, streams, or brooks throughout North America, including New England, Vermont, Maine, and the east coast of Canada, as well as Ontario and Quebec. The Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Penobscot peoples of Maine and Eastern Canada have traditionally harvested them. In the early 18th century, they were introduced to the Acadian settlers, and later to the United Empire Loyalist colonists as they began to settle in New Brunswick during the 1780s.
For centuries, fiddleheads have been part of traditional diets, such as the Native Americans, and people from Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Northern France since the Middle Ages. They are also part of the diet in Far East Russia where they are picked from the wild in autumn, preserved in salt over the winter, and later consumed during the spring.
Fiddleheads Nutrition Facts
What are fiddleheads nutrition facts? They contain a variety of minerals, vitamins, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are also a great source of antioxidants, protein, and dietary fiber. This spring delicacy is also low in fat and carbs.
Amazingly, 100 grams of fiddleheads contains 72% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, 44% of vitamin C, 26% of manganese, and 25% of vitamin B3. They are also a good source of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and copper.
The following is a fiddleheads nutrition chart with information for 100 grams of the vegetable.
|Total Fat||0.4 g||1.00%|
|Vitamin A||3617 IU||72.00%|
|Vitamin C||26.6 mg||44.00%|
|Vitamin B2||0.2 mg||12.00%|
|Vitamin B3||5.0 mg||25.00%|
* N/A—Not Applicable
Key Health Benefits of Fiddleheads
What are the health benefits of fiddleheads? Many of their health benefits are attributed to the high nutrient content. As a result, they are great for digestion, migraines, bone disorders, and boosting immunity and energy levels.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the other ways fiddleheads improve your health.
1. Boosts immunity
Fiddleheads are loaded with antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin C, which help boost immunity and protect the body against inflammation, common colds, and cancer. The beta-carotene in them is also associated with a reduced risk of various cancers.
The manganese content in fiddleheads also helps regulate thyroid function and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
2. Improves heart health
Fiddlehead consumption also benefits heart health. The vitamin B1 they contain helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease. Their potassium content also helps regulate blood pressure in those with hypertension.
3. Benefits eye health
Fiddleheads also contribute to healthy eyes due to their large vitamin A content. As a result, this helps prevent macular degeneration, vision loss, and night blindness, and improves overall eyesight.
4. Treats anemia
The main cause of anemia is low levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which results from a low amount of oxygen being transported to the cells. Anemia is the most common blood disorder in the U.S. and leads to poor immunity, low energy, and impaired brain function.
Iron deficiency is also a common cause of anemia, so the iron and copper content in fiddleheads can help prevent anemia symptoms. Both iron and copper are considered essential for the formation of new blood cells.
How to Use Fiddleheads
When gathering fiddleheads, you will only use the first inch or two of the stem attached to the coil. The rest of the vegetable is broken off and discarded. Avoid harvesting all the fiddleheads from a patch, or the entire fern can be infected. It is better to take just two or three coils from each patch.
Choose fiddleheads that are firm, small, with a bright green color, and have no signs of yellowing or softness. Avoid unfurled and large fiddleheads since they are tough and considerably unappetizing.
For the best taste and texture, use fiddleheads shortly after harvesting them. Store them in a paper bag or plastic wrap in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them. They can also be stored for up to three weeks in a glass container with cold water in the fridge. It is a good to change the water every few days.
When ready to use, soak fiddleheads in water. Be sure to wash them thoroughly to remove dirt and their brown papery skin. The scales are also bitter, so you should remove them before cooking.
Fiddleheads should be cooked rather than eaten raw since they can carry food-borne illness, which may cause stomach upset when you consume too many of them. I like to boil or steam them for about 10 minutes, then stir-fry or sauté them with a little olive oil, organic butter, or melted ghee. I will also add some garlic, and herbs like dried thyme, oregano, and basil, for some more flavor.
Once cooked, fiddleheads can be added to eggs, green salads, spreads, pesto, dips, soups, or paired with similar vegetables like asparagus, dandelion greens, wild ramps, or morel mushrooms. They can also be served over gluten-free pasta or brown rice. They can also be blanched then frozen.
Several Asian dishes will also include fiddleheads, while in the Himalayas they are picked and served with local cheese. In Indonesia, they are cooked with coconut milk and spiced with turmeric, lemon grass, galangal, and chili pepper. In the Philippines, they are made into salads with salted egg slices, tomato, and vinaigrette dressing.
Final Thoughts on Fiddleheads
Fiddleheads have an impressive nutrient content, which makes them a great vegetable to enjoy when they are available, but there are a few precautions to consider before eating them. For instance, they contain thiaminase, which breaks down vitamin B1.
In theory, consuming too many fiddleheads can lead to vitamin B1 deficiency, or beriberi. Symptoms of vitamin B1 deficiency can include appetite loss, constipation, indigestion, and muscle tenderness, especially in the calf muscles. However, this is fairly difficult to do since they are only available for a few weeks during the spring.
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