Helianthus tuberosus–Family Compositae [Asteraceae])
Jerusalem Artichoke, girasole, sunchoke, sunroot, topinambour (and other South American variations)
The Jerusalem artichoke is neither a true artichoke nor one that comes from Jerusalem.
Its tubers were eaten by native Indians in both South and North America, especially when other tubers would not thrive.
The confusion in the name may have been started by the explorer, Samuel de Champlain, when he wrote in 1603, about finding cultivated roots that taste like artichokes. The plant was taken back to France in 1613, along with six Brazilian Topinambous Indians, where both created quite an interest. This explains the French name for this artichoke, “topinambour”. The final name of “Jerusalem” seems to have been a corruption of the Italian name for sunflower, “girasole”.
Tasting a little like a water chestnut or a Brazil nut, the Jerusalem artichoke is high in starch and indigestible carbohydrates, particularly that of the complex sugar known as inulin, which is made up of units of fructose.
As the artichoke matures, its starches turn to sugar, which makes it sweeter, raising the calorie content dramatically. Just after being dug, the Jerusalem artichoke tastes bland and starchy, and contains only seven calories; but, after it has stored a while to ripen, the taste is not only sweeter, but delivers a whopping seventy-five calories.
The Jerusalem artichoke is particularly good raw and grated in salads, but they must be fresh and crisp. They can also be roasted or fried like “chips” (french fries). They make a tasty addition to soup as well.
The Jerusalem artichoke can grow to a height of seven feet, producing yellow flowers
in the fall that resemble the sunflower.
Yet, this frost-hardy plant is cultivated only for its tubers and only in a few regions on any significant scale. The tubers are typically branched, knobby, or segmented, and up to four inches long.
However, there are now more than a dozen varieties which have no knobs, making them easier to clean and peel, with some varieties requiring no peeling.
Between twenty-four and thirty-six small to medium tubers form on the roots, much like potatoes, and vary from pear to apple shapes, depending on the variety.
The colours of the tubers vary from white to silvery, light tan, red, or purple. The flesh, however, remains a constant white or cream colour.
Jerusalem artichokes can quickly become an invasive weed. After harvesting, lift even the smallest tubers from the ground.
Cooking a Jerusalem artichoke produces a different texture from the globe. In moist heat, the starch granules absorb water and eventually rupture. The starch and the nutrients inside the cells will then be much more accessible and easier to digest.
Their high sugar content is often used as raw material in the making of fructose, syrup, and alcohols and, when roasted, are a substitute for coffee.
In the 1920s, they were a commercial source of fructose and were expected to replace the beet and cane as a source of sugar.
The Jerusalem artichoke is rich in dietary fiber, folate, and magnesium, as well as being a good source of calcium, iron (on par with meat), phosphorus, potassium, Vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and B6. It also contains inulin, a carbohydrate that some people are not able to digest, thereby causing flatulence.
Conversely, inulin is considered as a diabetic-friendly carbohydrate since it does resist digestion, thus limiting a rise in blood sugar levels after eating. By eating foods rich in Vitamin C at the same time, the body is able to better absorb the iron from the Jerusalem artichoke.
Some varieties of the Jerusalem artichoke include the following:
Boston Red has large knobbly tubers with rose-red skin.
Dwarf Sunray does not need peeling and makes a good ornamental plant.
Fuseau has long smooth white tubers and is the traditional French variety.
Golden Nugget has tapering carrot-shaped tubers.
Stampede has large tubers.
Kacks Copperclad has dark coppery-purple excellent tasting tubers and small pretty sunflowers. Plants can reach ten feet in height.
Mulles Rose has large white tubers with rose-purple fleshed eyes.
Sun Choke, grown mainly in California, has a fresh nutty flavour and is excellent raw, cooked, or creamed.