Edible fern sprouts, also known as “fiddlehead ferns,” are the curly young leaves of the ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris. They grow wild near streams and lakes on the East Coast of the USA and Canada and are quite popular there.
You can usually acquire them in specialized markets, as their harvest time is really short – between mid-April and early May. In addition, they’re quite special due to their delicious and nutritional properties, especially their content of fiber, vitamin A, and antioxidants.
People consider them a delicacy and a gem, culinary speaking. Their flavor ranges from slightly smoky to astringent, similar to broccoli and asparagus. They also have a characteristic crunchy texture.
Are you ready to find out more about their properties and cooking methods?
Read on, then!
Nutritional properties of fiddlehead ferns
Fern sprouts stand out for their protein, vitamin, and mineral content. Let’s take a look at their main nutrients per 100 grams of the frozen product — courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
To begin with, note that fiddlehead ferns are quite low on calories — only 34 when raw. Such a value is perfect for people following a weight loss diet.
However, people must make them without using any fatty ingredients such as butter or heavy cream to maintain the low caloric density. These ferns contain 0.35 grams of total fat per 100 grams of sprout only and contribute little energy to the body.
Despite having a water content of almost 90%, fiddlehead ferns have a higher protein value than other leaves. The 4.31 grams per 100 grams of fern sprouts represent 8% of the recommended daily value.
Frozen, uncooked fiddlehead ferns contain about 5.7 grams of carbohydrates. This covers 2 % of the recommended daily total, and most of it is fiber and this is why they’re ideal for low-calorie diets.
This vegetable contains 3350 international units of vitamin A approximately and it’s one of its most outstanding nutrients. A serving of 100 grams provides 112% of the recommended daily value for an average adult.
Vitamin B3 is known as niacin and is part of the B complex. About 100 grams of fiddlehead ferns provide 3.26 milligrams of it. It represents 16% of the recommended daily intake.
According to a group of experts, this vitamin helps metabolize carbs and fats. In addition, it helps reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol, while increasing HDL-cholesterol or “good” cholesterol.
100 grams of fiddlehead ferns contain almost 18 milligrams of vitamin C. This represents 30% of the recommended daily value for an average adult. However, a prolonged heating process can destroy it so rapid steam softening is a better approach.
Fiddlehead ferns also contain potassium. The average value is 130 milligrams in a 100 grams portion, which covers 7% of the recommended daily levels.
Health Benefits of Fiddlehead ferns
Fiddlehead ferns contain a series of bioactive compounds with antioxidant and vitamin effects that benefit the health of those who consume them. Read about their main nutritional properties below:
- Firstly, their niacin content could prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases. Published research indicates niacin helps reduce the levels of bad cholesterol and triacylglycerides when there’s an excess in the blood.
- In addition, the vitamin C content of fiddlehead ferns enhances their antioxidant effect. The blocking effect of this vitamin against free radical damage at the cellular level is well-known. In fact, it can have a positive effect on anti-aging, heart disease, cancer prevention, and the immune system.
- Also, fiddlehead ferns are a high source of vitamin A. Research highlights the antioxidant capacity of this vitamin and its positive effect in preventing cellular DNA damage by free radicals. In addition, skin and bone maintenance, embryonic development, anti-aging, and visual health are also functions of this nutrient.
- Furthermore, the potassium supply from fern sprouts can be put to good use. In fact, this mineral is good for the heart as it helps lower blood pressure and heart rate by counteracting the effects of sodium according to WebMD magazine.
- Finally, this vegetable is an excellent choice for low-calorie weight-loss diets. This is because water makes up about 90% of the fiddlehead ferns.
Cooking fern sprouts
- You should select those that are firm, green, and tightly rolled. In fact, discard them if they are wilted, mottled, or slimy.
- Then, remove the outer flakes with a brush or clean cloth. Then, cut off the brown ends of the stem and the base of the rolled leaves with a sharp knife.
- Finally, wash them under cold running water before rinsing them in warm salted water for 2 minutes. Repeat the process 2 or 3 times until the water runs clear.
Health authorities advise boiling for 15 minutes or steaming for 10 to 12. This will eliminate some compounds that can lead to food poisoning when eaten raw. However, it’s best to reduce the cooking time to 6 or 10 minutes in order not to overcook them.
You can make a quick side dish by cooking them in butter or olive oil and chopped garlic. Sauté for 7 minutes and then add fresh lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and grated Parmesan.
Here’s a peculiar salad, full of color and flavor and quite easy to make. It’s great as an appetizer or as a side dish and you can add bean sprouts or baby peas. The recipe is for 2 people.
- 5 oz. of fiddlehead ferns
- 5 oz. of smoked tofu, drained and thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. butter
- ½ yellow sweet chili in strips without seeds
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- ¼ cup baby spinach
- 2 tbsp. sunflower oil
For the dressing:
- 3 tbsp. sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- Crushed garlic clove
- 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp. rice wine
- Firstly, heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the smoked tofu until it starts to brown.
- Then, add the soy sauce and continue to cook for two or three more minutes, and remove it from the frying pan afterward.
- Furthermore, add the butter and chopped garlic to the same pan and heat over medium heat.
- Next, cook for one minute or until golden brown.
- Then, add the previously washed fiddlehead ferns to the pan and sauté for six to 10 minutes, or until tender.
- Now, place the tofu in a large bowl, along with the fern sprouts, chili strips, scallions, and baby spinach.
- Finally, mix all of the salad dressing ingredients and drizzle them over the dish.
In conclusion, fiddlehead ferns have a unique flavor and texture and go great with many other ingredients. In addition, their remarkable content of vitamins A, C, and B3 makes them highly nutritious.