Sunday, June 2, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Fiddleheads

     I first heard of fiddleheads in 2003.  At the time I was working with a friend from Maine (Hi Jane), and she often raved about them.  (Incidentally, a fun term for those who hail from that state is “Maineiac” (sp?).  Furthermore, the more insulting, but amusing slang term for a Massachusetts native is “Masshole.”)  She brought back a jar from home, and several of us gave them a go.
     Fiddleheads are the furled fronds of the young fern plant.  They are commonly eaten in Asia, Northern France, Canada, and in the New England states, especially Maine.  Tide Head, New Brunswick, Canada, bills itself as the “Fiddlehead Capital of the World.”  They are sometimes eaten alone as snacks, mixed in with other dishes, or as a side.  Some of the species eaten are bracken, ostrich, cinnamon (or buckthorn), zenmai (flowering), vegetable, and royal.
     Nutritionally, the good news is that fiddleheads are high in fiber, potassium, and iron, and low in sodium.  The bad news, unfortunately, is rather extensive.  Some fern species contain thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine, meaning a person who eats a lot of fiddleheads could develop the vitamin deficiency condition beriberi.  (Cooking the fiddleheads seems to help avoid this, though.)  Also, the bracken species of fern, and perhaps the ostrich variant, appear to be carcinogenic.  Higher incidences of stomach cancer in parts of Japan are tentatively linked to fiddlehead consumption.
     I’m not sure what species I ate, but hopefully it was one of the safer kinds.  They were pickled, and had been purchased from a grocery store.  Normally I’m a big fan of pickling, so this boded well.  Alas, I thought fiddleheads were pretty revolting.  I found the texture to be unpleasant, as it was sort of slimy.  And the taste was awful—strong, and rather bitter.  Not appetizing at all.  It could be a regional thing—maybe if I’d grown up eating them as a child I would be fond of them, but I didn’t, and I’m not.  And given how negative an experience it was, I have no plans to try fiddleheads again.

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