Benefits Uses Leeks

The Health Benefits and Uses of Leeks

Most people are quite familiar with vegetables like garlic, onions, and shallots. These pungent root vegetables have been staples in many different types of cuisine around the world for thousands of years. Yet there is a related vegetable that has similar uses that doesn’t get as much attention: the leek. Leeks are a crunchy, aromatic vegetable with a mild, oniony flavor, but they also contain a variety of nutrients that make them as healthy as they are versatile.

What to Know About Leeks

The leek is a cultivar of Allium ampeloprasum, also known as the broadleaf wild leek. The Allium family includes other common veggies like onions, garlic, scallions (green onions), and chives. Unlike some of the other Allium vegetables, however, leeks don’t form a bulb. Instead they have a long, cylindrical shape with a white base that gradually turns to dark green leaves at the top. They are perhaps most similar to green onions, though they are generally much thicker and longer.

Leeks are native to the eastern Mediterranean region and were likely first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. They were also highly valued by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who viewed them as a more refined version of onions or garlic. The leek has even been the national emblem of Wales since the 6th century. Today they are grown all over the world, but they tend to be far more popular in the United Kingdom, France, and other parts of Western Europe.

Nutritional Content of Leeks

Leeks are a nutrient-dense vegetable that are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds. They are also low in calories but rich in dietary fiber; this makes them more filling for less calories, which is an important consideration for those who are looking for weight loss or just have a more balanced diet. Below are some of the important vitamins and minerals found in leeks:

Vitamins (% Daily Value)

  • vitamin A (9%)
  • vitamin C (13%)
  • vitamin K (39%)
  • vitamin B6 (14%)
  • folate (16%)

Minerals (% Daily Value)

  • calcium (5%)
  • iron (12%)
  • potassium (6%)
  • manganese (21%)
  • magnesium (7%)

In addition to providing essential nutrients that our bodies need for normal functions, leeks also contain a number of compounds that may have further health benefits. One category of substances that are abundant in leeks is antioxidants. Antioxidants are believed to be helpful in fighting oxidative stress, a potential result of having too many free radicals in the body. Antioxidants come in several forms, including flavonoids (a kind of polyphenol) and carotenoids. These substances are associated with improvements in various aspects of health.

What Are the Health Benefits of Leeks?

The combination of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants makes the leek a great choice for any healthy diet. Moreover, there is evidence that many of the nutrients in leeks may have health benefits beyond good nutrition:1

  • Gut health: As noted above, leeks are a good source of dietary fiber, which promotes healthy digestion and regular bowel movements. Fiber further helps prevent constipation and supports a healthy gut microbiome by acting as a prebiotic, any substance that feeds the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Heart health: Leeks contain potassium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure by balancing the effects of sodium; adequate potassium intake can help reduce the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular diseases. There is also some evidence that dietary fiber content can help lower cholesterol levels, which is beneficial for preventing heart disease as well as reducing the strain on blood vessels.
  • Immune system: Leeks and other veggies in the Allium family produce an organosulfur compound called allicin; this is believed to have anti-inflammatory effects that can improve immune system function and potentially lessen the chances of chronic disease. Leeks are also a good source of vitamin C, another nutrient associated with immune system health.
  • Good vision: Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in leeks that are thought to be beneficial for health. These substances are somewhat unique in that they tend to accumulate in the retina of the eyes; this is why eating leeks and other foods with these compounds may be able to prevent age-related macular degeneration as well as promote good vision in general.2
  • Anti-cancer properties: Another flavonoid contained in leeks is kaempferol, and it is thought to be a factor in preventing the growth of some types of cancer cells. More research is needed, however.3

Ways to Use Leeks

Like onions and garlic, leeks are an incredibly versatile vegetable that can be used in a variety of delicious ways. One classic preparation is in soups and stews, where their mild onion flavor adds depth of flavor; examples include potato leek soup, vegetable stews, and creamy chowders. Leeks also pair beautifully with eggs, as in quiches, frittatas, and omelets. They also make an excellent addition to pasta dishes and risottos, providing a flavorful base when sautéed with other ingredients in olive oil.

As useful as raw leeks can be for home cooks and restaurants, they are perhaps even more valuable as a dry ingredient in countless food products. Dehydrated leeks can be a simple add-on to soups, stews, pasta products, stuffings, and many other prepared foods. But they can also be ground into a powder and used as a seasoning agent for a diverse set of applications, from salad dressings to seasoning blends and even ready meals and baked goods. Additionally, because of their nutritional content, they will add nutrients to any recipe they are included in.

Premium Ingredients from SIlva

Leeks are just one example of high quality ingredients that can add significant flavor and nutritional value to a food product. At Silva, we are passionate about providing a wide variety of dried vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, and fruits. But even beyond offering the ingredients themselves, we are dedicated to helping your business thrive by delivering what you need to make your next recipe worthy of your brand. If you’d like to learn more about working with Silva or any of our products, please contact us today.