Other names: Jerusalem artichoke, sunroot, topinambur, Helianthus tuberosus L.
Availability: All year.
Source: Mexico and the United States.
Handling Tips: Keep cool, 40-50°F and dry. Do not mist
General Information: A sunchoke is an underground vegetable like a cross between a rutabaga, potato, sunflower seed, and water chestnut. A sunchoke, related to the sunflower, makes a delicious addition to salad, salsa, marinade, and soup.
Also called Jerusalem artichoke, the sunchoke is a flowering plant native to North America. It is grown throughout the temperate world for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable. Despite its name, the Jerusalem artichoke has no relation to Jerusalem, and little to do with artichokes.
Native Americans enjoyed digging up and eating sunchokes for centuries before the colonialists settled. Myths about the dangers of this starchy tuber kept Europeans for cultivating them until the threat was proved superstitious and they embraced the tasty vegetable. The sunchoke got its new name when a French explorer sent some plants back to his friend in Italy to cultivate in the Mediterranean climate. Thinking they tasted like artichokes, the Italian named the tuber "girasole articicco," meaning, "sunflower artichoke." Americans corrupted the pronunciation, which they thought sounded more like "Jerusalem," but the name stuck.
The tubers are gnarly and uneven, vaguely resembling ginger root, with a crisp texture when raw. Unlike most tubers, but in common with other members of the Asteraceae (including the artichoke), the tubers store the carbohydrate inulin (not to be confused with insulin) instead of starch. For this reason, Jerusalem artichoke tubers are an important source of fructose for industry. The carbohydrates gives the tubers a tendency to break down and dissolve when cooked, in addition to giving them a legendary facility to produce flatulence.
Nutritional: Fat and cholesterol free. Low in sodium. Good source of potassium and vitamin C.
Applications: Scrub sunchokes well. They may be peeled but better not to, as the skin contributes both nutrients and flavor. Dip cut sunchokes into a lemon juice and water mixture to prevent discoloration. Refrigerate sunchokes this way up to several days.
Use sliced sunchokes in marinated vegetable mixtures, on an appetizer vegetable platter with dips.
Many recipes that don't specifically call for a sunchoke would benefit from their crisp texture and nutty flavor. When you would have considered using jicama, water chestnuts, or almonds, try substituting the tuber. Their taste falls somewhere between an artichoke heart and a sunflower seed. Fresh, chop them into salads, dips, salsa, chutney, or light marinades. Cooked, mix them in with soups, grilled poultry or fish, or sauces. Pieces of sunchoke can even be deep fried and served with salsa for a picnic treat.
History: Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by the Native Americans (who called them "sun roots") long before the arrival of the Europeans. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain found them being grown at Cape Cod in 1605.