Fiddlehead Ferns: Friend or Foe?

The hidden danger lurking in the vegetable crisper

Ostrich fiddlehead

To eat or not to eat? That is the question that confronts not just adventurous eaters, but anyone who is considering whether or not to try, say, shrimp, for the first time, or for a more adventurous example, grasshoppers or durian. Some people might just take the "hey, you only live once" approach, make the leap without thinking much about it, and happily plop it in their mouth and munch away, while others might be more circumspect, thinking about whether they know anyone else who has eaten the food in question and weighing the risks against possible benefits.

Such may be the case with fiddlehead fern. With spring well underway, there's a good chance (depending on where one lives) that these have popped up at the local farmers market, in menus at fine restaurants, at the grocery store, or even in the backyard by now. And it's natural to wonder, for those who have never tried them — what do these funny-looking plants taste like? And, what can I do with them?

Their flavor is often compared to asparagus with a hint of nuttiness and a chewy texture, and blanched and sautéed in a little olive oil or butter, they're delicious all on their own, worked into an omelette, or tossed into a light, spring vegetable pasta dish. They're also a central component in Korean and Japanese cuisine, an essential part of iconic dishes like bibimbap. (Photo courtesy of Hyosun Ro)

And they're a great way to work some more vitamin A and C into the diet, as well as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. They are also a significant source of protein, containing about four and a half times the amount of protein per serving than that of similar green vegetables, as well as a good source of iron, a boon for vegetarians who need a good meatless source of iron but are tired of spinach and kale.