The name, “Jerusalem artichoke”, is somewhat misleading. Botanically-named helianthus tuberosus, the Jerusalem artichoke is neither from Jerusalem nor an artichoke. The name, Jerusalem artichoke, is thought to be a corruption of the Italian “Griasole Articiocco,” meaning “turns toward the sun”. Jerusalem artichokes are also called sunchokes.
The Jerusalem artichoke is native to North America. It is a tuber of the Asteraceae or Compositae family – a family of plants that include asters, daisies and sunflowers. The plant produces small yellow sunflowers which resemble sunflowers. The leafy (above ground) part of a Jerusalem artichoke grow feet high – or more! According to a knowledgeable local, you cannot stop a Jerusalem artichoke from growing! You can plant a Jerusalem artichoke by snipping a nub of the tuber and placing it (ideally) in loose, fertile soil. Be careful when composting (raw) scraps of a Jerusalem artichoke as you may end up with a hearty – perhaps uncontrollable – bed of artichokes. The Jerusalem artichoke grows very well in Nova Scotia.
The tubers of the plant are edible and, as we learned last night at the first of the three part Winter Cooking Class Series, delicious! The tubers look like potatoes or ginger root and can vary in size and shape from small, round and knobby to long, slender and smooth. There are many varieties of Jerusalem artichokes with the tubers varying in colour from white to pink or red. The cultivated strains of Jerusalem artichoke produce large tubers and shorter, thicker stems than the wild types.
The tubers of the Jerusalem artichoke have a potato-like texture when cooked, with a crisp texture when raw. They have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor (cooked or raw). The tubers can be used as a potato substitute or, raw and sliced thinly, make a delicious salad. Jerusalem artichokes are especially great for diabetics as they store starch as insulin. They are infact 100% starchless. They are rich in prebiotics and thus good for the intestinal tract. Jerusalem artichokes are also high in iron, potassium and thiamine, and are low in fat.
Before eating or cooking a Jerusalem artichoke, scrub the tubers thoroughly with a vegetable brush or anything that will remove the outer dirt. Peeling can be difficult due to their bumpy nature. The peels can be eaten (and are full of vitamins, etc.) but do tend to cook faster than the flesh of the tuber. A tip for peeling the tubers is to slice off the smaller bumpy areas so that you can then remove the skin easier with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. You could then thinly slice the bumpy bits and eat them raw or plant them in your garden.
The tubers keep well whether kept in the ground over winter (freezing does not injure them) or stored in (ideally) a well ventilated, dark, cool, humid space. You can also keep them in the veggie drawer of your fridge – ideally wrapped in a moist cloth or paper towel. Over overlooked, Jerusalem artichokes are a terrific Nova Scotia winter vegetable!
There will be more to come on Jerusalem artichokes – including recipes from last night’s cooking class – so stay tuned!