Leek has been known and used for centuries for its medicinal properties, although nowadays it is used mainly as food or for flavor.
Thought to be native to Central Asia, they have been cultivated in this region and in Europe for thousands of years.
Dried specimens from archaeological sites in ancient Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings, led archeologists Zohary and Hopf to conclude that the leek plant was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BCE onwards.
They also allude to surviving texts that show it had been also grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE.
The leek was the favorite vegetable of the Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice. And the Romans are thought to have introduced leeks to the United Kingdom, where they were able to flourish because they could withstand cold weather.
Today, leeks are an important vegetable in many northern European cuisines and are grown in many European countries.
Leeks are the largest member of the allium family that includes onions, garlic and chives. Rather than form a bulb, their leaves grow straight upwards wrapped tightly around each other to create what looks like a stalk, but isn’t. With a milder flavor and larger size, they work well added to everything from salads to soups, where they add beneficial fiber and bulk along with vitamins, minerals, antioxidant and polyphenols.
COMPONENTS AND NUTRITION
Leeks are an excellent dietary food, which is very low in calories. They are composed primarily of water, about 90%. They also contain dietary fiber, minerals—nickel, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, manganese, phosphorous; vitamins A, C and K, folate, and moderate amounts of vitamins of the B complex (B1, B2, B3 and B6). They also contain phytonutrients.
Take a look at their NUTRITIONAL DATA
Leeks have been known since time immemorial for their medical properties. So, if you like the sharp flavor of leek, you can benefit from its juice and of all its excellent healthy properties that are good remedies for a wide range of disorders. Here are some of them:
ANEMIA: Thanks to its content in iron, which is essential for the synthesis of hemoglobin (the protein in red cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body) leek can help fight various types of anemia, especially those resulting from iron deficiency. Its vitamin C content helps make effective iron absorption.
ANTIOXIDANT: The polyphenols found in leeks are known to be strong antioxidants that fight against free radicals that cause chronic disease and aging.
BLOOD VESSELS: The flavonoid kaempferol which is present in significant amounts in leeks provides protection to the linings of blood vessels, particularly against free radicals or reactive oxygen species. Kaempferol may also increase the production of nitric oxide in the body, a substance that acts as a natural dilator and relaxant of blood vessels, thus allowing blood vessels to rest and lower the risk of hypertension.
CANCER: Leeks are a good source of allyl sulfides which have been shown to modify certain pathways associated with the growth of tumors.
CHOLESTEROL: Leek does have an anti-cholesterol and anti-atherosclerosis action. It helps reduce both the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine, as well as the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol in the blood, thus preventing one of the first steps in the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.
DIGESTIVE HEALTH: Leeks can help regulate intestinal function and motility, due to their content in fiber. They also help to repopulate the good bacteria in the colon, thereby aiding digestion and reducing intestinal bloating.
HEART DISEASE: Studies have shown that members of the allium family have a slight blood pressure lowering effect and may help prevent platelets from clotting which could potentially lead to a heart attack. Leeks can help rid of homocysteine, a molecule that can be very detrimental to cardiovascular health.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: Leeks are high in potassium, which promotes diuresis thereby helping to lower and regulate blood pressure. That’s why leek juice is particularly recommended for people suffering from high blood pressure.
INFLAMMATORY DISEASES: Leeks can fight chronic low-level inflammatory states such as diabetes, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation of the urinary tract, by virtue of its polyphenol and kaempferol content. Leek juice can be used as a valuable aid for treating these inflammatory diseases.
NERVOUS SYSTEM: Magnesium, phosphorous and folate are important nutrients needed for healthy functioning of the nervous system. They help improve concentration, memory and the brain’s ability to process information. Folate is also essential to prevent brain defects in babies.
PURIFYING THE BODY: Perhaps the most characteristic action of leek juice is its purifying effect on the whole body, since it helps eliminate toxins from the body by enhancing the cleansing of the colon.
RESPITATORY TRACK: Due to its content in volatile oils, leek juice does have a beneficial, balsamic action on the respiratory tract. So it can be used to relieve the symptoms associated with flu, cold and hay fever.
VITAMIN AND MINERAL BENEFITS: Leeks contain vitamin C which is important in wound healing and collagen formation. Pyridoxine is important in efficient energy utilization. Vitamin K present in leeks is needed for blood coagulation and for metabolism of bone and connective tissues. Iron is required in the formation of hemoglobin while manganese functions as a coenzyme in many reactions in the body. Eating leeks regularly ensures that you get good amounts of these nutrients.
WEIGHT LOSS: Leeks are great for weight loss programs as they have a low calorific value. Also, the significant fiber content helps keep one satiated for long and boosts metabolism.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE
Leeks should be firm and straight with dark green leaves and white necks. Good quality leeks will not be yellowed or wilted.. Since overly large leeks are generally more fibrous in texture, only purchase those that have a diameter of one and one-half inches or less.
Try to purchase leeks that are of similar size so as to ensure more consistent cooking if you are planning on cooking the leeks whole. Leeks are available throughout the year, although they are in greater supply from the fall through the early part of spring.
Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator, where they will keep fresh for between one and two weeks. Wrapping them loosely in a plastic bag will help them to retain moisture.
If the leeks have any signs of roots, they can also be placed in a glass jar with about 1 – 2 inches of water and they will keep for months. A great experiment if you have kids or grandkids.
Cooked leeks are highly perishable, and even when kept in the refrigerator and will only stay fresh for about two days.
Leeks may be frozen after being blanched for two to three minutes, although they will lose some of their desirable taste and texture qualities. Leeks will keep in the freezer for about three months.
PREPARING AND COOKING
Cut off green tops of leeks and remove outer tough leaves. Cut off root and cut leeks in half lengthwise. Fan out the leeks and rinse well under running water, leaving them intact. Then you can cut them any desired length you want; either in chunks or thinly sliced.
HOW TO ENJOY
The edible parts of the leek plant are the light green stalk (or stem) and its white bulb, while the dark green leaf sheaths are usually discarded because of their fibrous consistency. However, it would be wise to use the dark green leaves as well (finely minced or juiced), because they are the parts with the highest content in minerals and vitamins.
Although leeks have a sharp flavor, their taste is sweeter and more delicate than that of onions. Leeks can be used in a variety of dishes, either raw or cooked, or they can be used to prepare delicious juices.
Leeks can be used to prepare soups, broths and sauces, as well as cut into thin slices and added to a variety of salads.
Leek juice can be prepared from the stalk, and leaves. The dark green leaf sheaths are very rich in minerals and vitamins. The leek juices blend very well with carrot and celery.
Leeks contain very small amounts of oxalate and should be avoided by individuals who have a history of oxalate kidney stones.
They are also high in nickel, thus its consumption should be avoided by individuals with nickel allergy.
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- Food Chemistry June 15, 2013; Volume 138, Issue 4, Pages 2099-2107
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- GreenMedInfo.com Garlic
- Why Leeks are Good for You
- YumSugar January 4, 2010