Jerusalem artichoke is a bumpy, fleshy, root vegetable of sunflower family plants. Its underground nutty, flavorful, starch-rich root is eaten much the same way like potato in many parts of Western Europe and Mediterranean regions.
It should not be confused to globe artichoke, which is an edible flower bud. Similarly, their name is widely misunderstood as “artichokes from Jerusalem” misinterpreted for the Italian girasole carciofi, translating to sunflower artichoke in English. Some of the common names are sunroot, sunchoke, topinambur etc. Scientific name: Helianthus tuberosus.
Jerusalem artichokes are native to the Central America. The plant is technically an evergreen perennial but cultivated as an annual crop. Once established, it grows vigorously with multiple branches, reaching about 5-10 feet height, slightly taller than sunflower plant, and carries many golden-yellow flower heads at the terminal end of branches.
The plant bears many starchy edible rhizomes, firmly attached to stem underneath the soil surface. Jerusalem tubers feature gray, purple, or pink skin externally, and sweet, delicate textured ice-white flesh inside. Some roots have quite bumpy and extremely knobby outer surface, making their clean a tougher task. Each tuber weighs about 75 to 200 g.
Health benefits of Jerusalem artichoke
Jerusalem artichoke is moderately high in calories; provides about 73 calories per 100 g, roughly equivalent to that of potatoes. The root has negligible amounts of fat and contains zero cholesterol. Nevertheless, its high-quality phytochemical profile comprises of dietary fiber (non-starch carbohydrates), and antioxidants, in addition to small proportions of minerals, and vitamins.
It is one of the finest sources of dietary fibers, especially high in oligo-fructose inulin, which is a soluble non-starch polysaccharide. Inulin should not be confused for insulin, which is a hormone. The root provides 1.6 mg or 4% of fiber. Inulin is a zero calorie saccharine and inert carbohydrate which does not undergo metabolism inside the human body, and thereby; make this tuber an ideal sweetener for diabetics and dietetics.
Soluble as well as insoluble fibers in this tuber add up to the bulk of food by retaining moisture in the gut. Studies suggest that adequate roughage in the diet helps reduce constipation problems. Dietary Fibers also offer some protection against colon cancers by eliminating toxic compounds from the gut.
The tuber contains small amounts of anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-C, vitamin-A, vitamin-E. These vitamins, together with flavonoid compound like carotenes, helps scavenge harmful free radicals and thereby offers protection from cancers, inflammation and viral cough and cold.
Further, Jerusalem artichokes are an excellent source of minerals and electrolytes, especially potassium, iron, and copper. 100 g of fresh root holds 429 mg or 9% of daily required levels of potassium. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte which brings reduction in the blood pressure and heart rate by countering pressing effects of sodium.
100 g of fresh sunchoke contains 3.4 mg or 42.5% of iron, probably the highest amount of this trace element among the common edible roots and tubers.
It also contains small levels of some of the valuable B-complex group of vitamins such as folates, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and thiamin.
Selection and storage
Sunchokes are commonly found in the US markets year-round. Fresh farm harvest hit the markets from October and may last until winter and spring seasons. In the stores, buy tubers with a smooth surface as they pose less difficulty in the preparation. Look for average sized, clean, firm tubers. Avoid any sprouted, diseased, or bruised roots.
Once at home, store them in the refrigerator set at 33 to 35 degree F, and at very high relative humidity.
Preparation and serving methods
Wash the tubers thoroughly in cold water with a gentle scrub. Although peel is fine to eat, it is discarded using a vegetable-peeler. The root artichokes are high in iron content, and cut ends turn brown soon upon exposure to air, as in apples. To prevent this, drop cut pieces into a bowl of cold acidulated (lemon) water.
Jerusalem artichokes are one of the very versatile vegetables. The tubers can be employed in a variety of ways in cooking. They can be eaten raw like parsnips in salads or boiled and mashed, roasted, or sauteed like a potato. Do not overcook, as they turn soft and mushy rather quickly.
Here are some serving tips:
Fine julienned tuber can be a great addition to salads or slaws.
Deep-fry its thin slices in vegetable oil (as in potato chips) to prepare chips.
Boiled sunchoke can be pureed, and can be used as a dip or in fillings for pancakes.
It complements well with other tubers like a potato in a variety of mouth-watering stews and soups. Roasted sunchoke is eaten as a side dish with turkey, lamb, etc.
Jerusalem artichoke contains inert carbohydrates in the form of inulin. Inulin does not get digested in the gut and passes as it is in the bowel movements. Sometimes, this may cause troublesome indigestion problems, especially in those who are new to use them in the food. Eating large quantity of roughage may cause gaseous distension and gripping pain in the stomach.