Today is going to be a fun day, I can just feel it. The reason for this is the inclusion of what I’d consider a deceptively hilarious vegetable in our series of nutrition fact articles. Which one could it be? Why the leek of course! What, you don’t think leeks are inherently funny? I- okay, maybe they aren’t really hilarious but something about them just seems comical. Maybe it’s because they’re so unassuming, or because they’re plain and there, but I find the comedy can absolutely be mined here. Or maybe we’ll just look at the history and nutrition value of them, how about that? Okay, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s learn more about leeks on this extended look.
Leek Culture and History
Funny or not, leeks go way back in human history to where scientists assume is the Mediterranean area, perhaps even Asia Minor. Problem is, they don’t know the exact time or date or anything like that, so they’re just blissfully assuming that leeks are Mediterranean in origin because so many herbs and such are native from there anyway. I’m sure they used a bit more scientific reasoning than that, but oh well, that’s the story we have.
Leeks even have some mention in the Bible, specifically in the book of Numbers when the Israelites are complaining about their time wandering in the desert, saddened that they left behind a whole bunch of food when they left Egypt, including leeks. Sure, if I were wandering around the desert for 40 years, I’d immediately regret not having leeks anymore. See, comedy!
Okay, here’s another one: Emperor Nero, living between 37-68 AD, loved to eat leeks all the time, typically leeks cooked in oil. Why? Well because he thought it would improve his singing voice, naturally! All of this got him the nickname Porophagus, which literally means “leek eater.” Oh come on! There’s a funny skit in there somewhere! Someone go looking and find it!
The laughs don’t stop there! Leeks are part of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Traditionally, they’re consumed symbolically to represent the desire to cut oneself off from one’s enemies as the Hebrew word for the leek is “karti,” very similar to the Hebrew word for “cut off” (“yikartu”). Eh? Eh? That’s funny, right? I…sort of see the laughs…? Okay, back to serious history.
We’re not quite sure when leeks started moving across the world, but we do know that by 620 AD, King Cadwallader required his men to wear leeks in their hats to differentiate themselves from the Saxons, their mortal enemies. That’s-pfffff leeks in their hats! That’s like putting a carrot in your shirt pocket to show that you’re not a hipster or something. The comedy just keeps getting better! Eventually the leek became associated with Saint David and garnered the belief that any maiden could see her future husband by placing a leek under her pillow by sleeping. Leeks under pillows! What if kids put leeks under their pillow in hopes of a visit from the Leek Fairy? Kids would certainly eat more leeks!
Strangely, at least to me, leeks managed to make it over to the US, Canada, and Australia rather easily as the settlers of the time just brought them on the voyages and started growing them in the new countries, so that’s simple enough. Perhaps this was because the French called leeks “poireau,” which meant “simpleton” as leeks were thought to be the poor man’s asparagus. People were actually judging vegetables as “rich” and “poor” and somehow the leek managed to sift to the bottom. Hysterical if you ask me!
Health Benefits of Leeks
Okay, enough comedy, time for serious facts about the nutritional value of leeks. Right away we can see a very serious plus in their health stats as they are extremely low in calories, yet have a very high amount of fiber. This makes them efficient for stripping waste from your body without adding anything in the process. If we were still focused on comedy aspects of leeks I’d make a bathroom jokes but we’re serious now!
Let’s toss in the usual vitamins and minerals, so that would include vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, making leeks a veritable bevy of health. Plus they have folic acid, are anti-bacteria, anti-fungal, anti-viral, can lower cholesterol, have anti-oxidants (meaning they reduce the risk of certain types of cancer), and help to prevent blood clots, meaning they reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Dang, leeks are a super vegetables!
But the best medicine, as we’ve all learned, is laughter. Nothing quite brings a smile to your face like the leek (as I’ve learned today), so science can prove to us that leeks improve your happiness rating by 13% and your silliness levels by half. Again, this is the very serious portion of the article, so you know there has to be meaning behind this whimsy!
Eating More Leeks
Assuming you’d want to eat a leek and not just use it as a prop for hilarious comedy routines, there are quite a few things you can do with them. Besides just eating them as they are in a manner that must looks positively ridiculous, leeks are very commonly added to soups, which seems less funny until you begin to think of all the comedy that soup can create. Leek soup? Priceless.
Actually, now that I take a look, leeks really are best in soups, stews, and chowders, though there are a few methods of cooking them up on their own and adding some flavor. Nero had the right idea, apparently, so frying them with some oil, while reducing the nutritional value a bit, still makes for something worth checking out.
It looks like you’re really going to have to try out different food combinations and see if leeks work well or not. Try some leeks on a garden burger. Try some leeks on a pizza. Try baking some leeks into brownies. Basically, put leeks any and everywhere and see what ends up tasting good and what ends up looking ridiculous. The leek has a long and illustrious lineage of wacky hijinx, so even where it’d look out of place is where it’s best suited. Experimentation is always your friend when it comes to food! Never be shy to try something outlandish!
There, we’ve covered the leek once more, this time with feeling! Now I can open things up to invite comments. Do you enjoy eating leeks now and then? Is there a favorite recipe that includes them? Or are they horrible tasting, boring vegetables? Leave a comment and let me know! Or better yet, leave a leek and keep me guessing! Both good!