The cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), also called the artichoke thistle, cardone, cardoni, carduni or cardi, is a thistle-like plant which is member of the aster family, Asteraceae; (or archaic: daisy family, Compositae). It is a naturally occurring variant of the same species as the globe artichoke, and has many cultivated varieties. It is native to the Mediterranean, where it was domesticated in ancient times.
Cardoon stalks can be covered with small, nearly invisible spines that can cause substantial pain if they become lodged in the skin. Several spineless cultivars have been developed to overcome this, but care in handling is recommended for all types.
Cardoon requires a long, cool growing season (about five months), but it is frost-sensitive. It also typically requires substantial growing space per plant, so is not much grown save where it is a regional favorite.
The cardoon is highly invasive and is able to adapt to dry climates. It has become a major weed in the pampas ofArgentina and California; it is also considered a weed in Australia.
Cardoons are used as a vegetarian source of enzymes for cheese production. In Portugal, traditional coagulation of the curd relies entirely on this vegetable rennet. This results in cheeses such as the Nisa (D.O.P.), with a peculiar earthy, herbaceous and a slightly citric flavour that bears affinity with full-bodied or fortified wines.
Cardoon has attracted recent attention as a possible source of biodiesel. The oil, extracted from the seeds of the cardoon, and called artichoke oil, is similar to safflower and sunflower oil in composition and use.