The folklore. Jerusalem artichokes, also called sunchokes, sunroots or earth apples, are not artichokes at all, nor have they anything to do with Jerusalem. Yet, the story behind the misnomer reveals a history as delightfully quirky as this tuber’s knotty appearance. First cultivated by Native Americans, the small, artichoke-flavored tuber was so enjoyed by French explorer Samuel de Champlain during his visit in 1605 that he brought it home to France, where its popularity quickly spread to other countries, including Italy, where it was dubbed girasole, the name for its relative, the sunflower. The name morphed into Jerusalem artichoke, which remains, along with its many aliases, today.
The facts. In the same species as the sunflower, the sunchoke is widely cultivated for its tuber, which is eaten as a root vegetable. The three- to four-inch long tubers, which resemble ginger root, may be brown, red, purple or white. What they lack in beauty, they make up for in nutrition. Not only is the sunchoke one of the richest sources of inulin, a non-digestible dietary fiber with prebiotic properties that promote a healthy gut, it also dishes plenty of vitamins and minerals. A one-cup serving packs in 28% DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories per day) of iron, 18% DV of heart-healthy potassium, and 20% DV of thiamin, which is important in energy metabolism.
Sunchokes, raw, 1 cup sliced (150 g)
Dietary fiber: 2 g (10% DV)
Vitamin C: 6 mg (10% DV)
Thiamin: 0.3 mg (20% DV)
Niacin: 2 mg (10% DV)
Iron: 5 mg (28% DV)
Phosphorus: 117 mg (12% DV)
Potassium: 643 mg (18% DV)
Copper: 0.2 mg (10% DV)
(Note: DV=Daily Value, g=gram, mg=milligram)
The findings. Sunchokes have gastrointestinal benefits because of their inulin content. Once eaten, inulin begins to fer-ment, which increases the bifidobacteria (a strain of “good” bacteria used as a probiotic) in the colon, also regulating cholesterol and the body’s absorption of minerals. When added to food, it also may prevent the spread of diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, according to a 2012 Polish journal, Annales Academiae Medicae Stetenensis. When Jerusalem artichoke inulin was added to fruit and vegetable drinks in a study published in a 2010 British Journal of Nutrition, levels of good bacteria were higher in people who consumed them than in those who did not, confirming the prebiotic effectiveness of inulin from Jerusalem artichokes.
The finer points. Sunchokes are best eaten from November to March; select firm, smooth-skinned sunchokes, and store in a cool, dark place up to 10 days. They are easy to prepare, and their crunchy texture and nutty flavor, reminiscent of artichoke, will bring new interest to your seasonal table. The easiest way to chop them is to cut them into a square, which also removes the peel and makes further cutting and slicing easier. With or without the peel, enjoy them raw, sliced into salads and stir-fries, or cook them just as you would a potato—boiled, roasted, steamed, or baked. In fact, they stand in quite well for potatoes in many recipes, including mashed potatoes or pureed into soup.
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