What’s in a name? When it comes to Jerusalem artichokes, less than you may think.
Unlike their moniker implies, these tuber vegetables aren’t from this eponymous holy city (they’re actually native to North America) and aren’t a type of artichoke (although they do have a similar taste). Yet, this shouldn’t stop you from remembering their name since they are a vegetable that is at once delicious and wonderfully good for health.
Speaking of names, you may see these vegetables going under a different one in the market or on a restaurant menu. They are also called sunchokes, referring to their being a cousin of the majestic sunflower to whose botanical family (Helianthus) they belong.
But when you look at Jerusalem artichokes, sunflower is probably the last image that may come to mind. Rather they look more like a gnarled ginger root or a knobby roughened version of those urban vinyl collectable toys.
Jerusalem artichokes are another example of that tried and true maxim: Don’t judge a book by its cover (or a vegetable by its exterior). Within these nodular tuberous treasures lies a food that is at once sweet and nutty, containing essences of both cocoa and their namesake artichoke. Raw, they have a refreshing crunch like jicama while cooked they bear a resemblance to slightly al dente potatoes.
Rich in Inulin
When you add Jerusalem artichokes to your culinary repertoire you’ll also be enjoying a food that is nutritionally unique and bound to enhance your health. They are relatively low calorie, with three ounces containing about sixty. Among the traditional nutrients in which they are most concentrated are iron, fiber, and potassium.
Unlike other tubers, Jerusalem artichokes are not concentrated in starch but rather a nutrient called inulin. This complex carbohydrate is only partially digestible and therefore doesn’t raise blood sugar levels or trigger insulin release like many other root vegetables.
What has also captured the attention of nutritionists and natural health proponents is that inulin has prebiotic properties (not to be confused with probiotics, the health-promoting cultures found in yogurt and kefir). Prebiotics—like inulin—actually serve as food for the “good” bacteria (flora) in our intestines, helping them to proliferate. Why is this important? Because when these inulin-noshing beneficial bacteria flourish they help to keep the “bad” bacteria in check, improving digestive health, reducing food sensitivities, and enhancing immune system function.
Selecting, Storing, and Preparing
Look for Jerusalem artichokes that are firm and free of cracks. Avoid those that are limp or moldy. You’ll find some varieties to be smoother, making preparation simpler. Depending upon the cultivar, they may either be a ruddy brown color or feature tints of pink-red.
Jerusalem artichokes may be found at supermarkets but natural food stores and farmers’ markets will likely be your best bets. While they are available year round, fall through late winter is when they are at the peak of their season.
Jerusalem artichokes like cool well-ventilated spaces. I like to keep them loosely wrapped in a paper towel or plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator’s produce bin. Don’t wash them before storing or it will hasten their becoming limp.
You can remove their skin with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. But with the ones that are more craggy, peeling can be a trying task, as you attempt to whittle away the skin that resides in the nooks and crannies. Better yet, if your recipe doesn’t specifically call for peeling, keep the edible skin on and enjoy the additional fiber they contain. Just wash the tuber well, scrubbing it gently with a potato brush if you have one.
Ways to Enjoy
Jerusalem artichokes are incredibly versatile. Delicious raw or cooked, they can be used in an array of different recipes.
Looking for a vegetable that will make a crispy addition to a salad or slaw? Check. One that can be pureed as an alternative to mashed potatoes? Check. A flavorful pickling vegetable? Check. A delicious sautéed side dish, a grated topping for fish tacos, an ingredient to make your Chanukah latkes unique? Check, check, check.
Once you start experimenting with Jerusalem artichokes you’ll see how this unique and health-promoting vegetable can be used in almost any recipe that you can name.
Do you have a favorite Jerusalem artichoke recipe? If so, consider sharing it with other Planetary Apothecary readers in the Comments section.