What You Didn't Know About Leeks

With its lengthy history, the humble leek has established itself as something of an unsung hero. From its incredible nutritional value to its superhero status among the good and fair people of Wales, the leek has a long history of showing up and getting things done. According to Britannica, the leek is thought to be native to eastern Mediterranean lands and the Middle East. 

Like garlic, the leek is related to the onion and is a member of the amaryllis family (via Britannica). Its flavor is said to be much milder than the onion (something the ancient Romans loved) and tastes sweet (via Britannica and Love Food). Love Food explains that the leek was said to be a favorite of the somewhat disastrous Roman emperor Nero because he believed they would make his singing voice better (the jury will forever be out on that one). Britannica explains that in European food culture leeks are primarily used in soups, stews, and oftentimes cooked with the hearty potato.

The leek has a distinguished and heroic history

This stalky green veggie has a history that can be traced back to ancient Egyptian and Roman times, according to Kitchen Project. The Egyptians were reported to cultivate the leek and use it as currency used when bartering for services, much like oxen and beer. Kitchen Project also explains that there are leeks depicted in the burial tombs of ancient Egyptians as well. Records of leeks can also be found within the cookbook of famed third-century food writer Apicus, where he credits Egypt for producing the best leeks. But the Egyptians and the Romans weren't the only ones that had a special place for the leek, so did the Welsh. 

Love Food reports that leeks saved the then-country of Wales at the Battle of Heathfield when they went up against the Saxons in 633 AD. According to Love Food, a Celtic monk named David convinced the Welsh army to wear leeks on their helmets as a way to distinguish their brethren from the opposing Saxon army. Much to the success of the Welsh, they won the battle and David became known as St. David. He even has his own holiday called St. David's Day, Love Food explains.

Leeks are considered the oldest superfood

Love Food writes that leeks are a great source of fiber and other heart-healthy compounds like flavonoids and polyphenols (two nutrients that protect blood vessels from damage). Healthline reports that leeks are also a great source of beta carotene, which the body trunks into vitamin A, and can be an important nutrient for the body's vision, immune function, reproduction, and cell communication. Leeks are also said to be high in vitamin K1, a vitamin that helps prevent blood clots. 

Eating more leeks can also be a great thing for women as leeks possess strong amounts of manganese, a nutrient that may assist in the reduction of PMS symptoms and promote thyroid health. But, that's not all — Healthline reports that leeks also carry copper, vitamin B6, iron, and folate (although in small amounts). Leeks also contain something called kaempferol, an antioxidant said to protect against the body against heart disease and certain types of cancer. Healthline explains that, like their cousin garlic, they also have allicin. This nutrient is said to have antimicrobial, cholesterol-lowering, and potential anticancer properties.