|Subspecies:||A. ampeloprasum var. porrum|
|Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum |
The edible part of the leek plant is a bundle of leaf sheaths which is sometimes called a stem or stalk.
FormRather than forming a tight bulb like the onion, the leek produces a long cylinder of bundled leaf sheaths which are generally blanched by pushing soil around them (trenching). They are often sold as small seedlings in flats which are started off early in greenhouses, to be planted out as weather permits. Once established in the garden, leeks are hardy; many varieties can be left in the ground during the winter to be harvested as needed.
CultivarsLeek cultivars can be subdivided in several ways, but the most common types are “summer leeks”, intended for harvest in the season when planted, and overwintering leeks, meant to be harvested in the spring of the year following planting. Summer leek types are generally smaller than overwintering types; overwintering types are generally more strongly flavored. Varieties include King Richard and Tadorna Blue.
GrowingLeeks are easy to grow from seed and tolerate standing in the field for an extended harvest. Leeks usually reach maturity in the autumn months, and they have few pest or disease problems. Leeks can be bunched and harvested early when they are about the size of a finger or pencil, or they can be thinned and allowed to grow to a much larger mature size. Hilling leeks can produce better specimens.
Leek has a mild onion-like taste, less bitter than scallion. The taste might be described as a mixture of mild onion and cucumber, with a fresh smell similar to scallion. In its raw state, the vegetable is crunchy and firm.
Leek is typically chopped into slices 5–10 mm thick. The slices have a tendency to fall apart, due to the layered structure of the leek. There are different ways of preparing the vegetable:
- Boiled, which turns it soft and mild in taste.
- Fried, which leaves it more crunchy and preserves the taste.
- Raw, which can be used in salads, doing especially well when they are the prime ingredient.
Because of their symbolism in Wales (see below), they have come to be used extensively in that country’s cuisine. Elsewhere in Britain, leeks have come back into favour only in the last fifty years or so, having been overlooked for several centuries.
Historical consumptionDried specimens from archaeological sites in ancient Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings, led Zohary and Hopf to conclude that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet “from at least the 2nd millennium BCE onwards.” They also allude to surviving texts that show it had been also grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the 2nd 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.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||255 kJ (61 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||1.8 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||83 μg (9%)|
|Thiamine (Vit. B1)||0.06 mg (5%)|
|Riboflavin (Vit. B2)||0.03 mg (2%)|
|Niacin (Vit. B3)||0.4 mg (3%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.233 mg (18%)|
|Folate (Vit. B9)||64 μg (16%)|
|Vitamin B12||0 μg (0%)|
|Vitamin C||12 mg (20%)|
|Vitamin E||0.92 mg (6%)|
|Vitamin K||47 μg (45%)|
|Calcium||59 mg (6%)|
|Iron||2.1 mg (17%)|
|Magnesium||28 mg (8%)|
|Phosphorus||35 mg (5%)|
|Potassium||180 mg (4%)|
|Sodium||20 mg (1%)|
|Zinc||0.12 mg (1%)|
|Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient database
Perhaps the most visible use of the leek, however, is as the cap badge of the Welsh Guards, a regiment within the Household Division of the British Army.
In Romania, the leek is also widely considered a symbol of Oltenia, a historical region in the south-western part of the country.
The Japanese virtual pop singer Hatsune Miku is often depicted holding a leek.
Leek field in Houthulst, Belgium