The Jerusalem Artichoke, Also known as sunchoke, is not, in fact, an artichoke at all. It is a type of sunflower believe it or not. It was only ever named ‘artichoke’ by a French explorer in the 15th century because the taste resembled that of an artichoke. It’s not whats overground that matters though. It’s the tubers they produce underground. The edible tuber is often long and narrow in shape and varies in color from pale brown, red and purple. Often resembling ginger.
The earliest evidence of the root dates back to Native American times. They cultivated the flower for food, especially in the winter when food was scarce, long before any Europeans set foot in North America. They were so versatile because of their ability to persist even years after the original planting. This subsequently led to the spread and growth in popularity around Europe and the rest of the world. However, it became obscure due to the new evolving world’s ability to preserve food, although in the early 2000s attempts to market it was successful.
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Order: Asterales
- Family: Asteraceae
- Genus: Helianthus
- Species: H. Tuberosus
- Binomial Name: Helianthus Tuberosus
- Fruit of Jerusalem artichoke is a small, dark-colored, wedge-shaped seed.
- Jerusalem artichokes can be turned into flour. This type of flour is especially popular among people diagnosed with celiac disease (people that do not tolerate wheat).
- Jerusalem artichoke is a perennial plant.
- Tuber: Tubers are enlarged structures in some plant species used as storage organs for nutrients. They are used for the plant’s perennation, to provide energy and nutrients for regrowth during the next growing season, and as a means of asexual reproduction.
- Cultivation: the act of caring for or raising plants.
- Perennial plant: A plant that lives for more than 2 years
- Inulin: a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants, industrially most often extracted from chicory. The inulins belong to a class of dietary fibers known as fructans.
- Fructose: Fructose, or fruit sugar, is a simple ketonic monosaccharide found in many plants, where it is often bonded to glucose to form the disaccharide sucrose
- Fillers: additives that help bulk up the weight of food with less expensive ingredients, which helps keep the price down.
- Metabolize: When your bost processes a substance.
- Flatulence: a buildup of gas in the digestive system that can lead to abdominal discomfort
- Anti-oxidant: help defend your cells from damage caused by potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals.
- Flavonoid compound: are used by vegetables for their growth and defence against plaques
Sunchoke Buying Guide
When buying Jerusalem artichokes you’re looking for a smooth, clean and unblemished texture. Firm but with an outer consistency close to ginger. Farmers are attempting to breed them to be less lumpy. So you will find some that are more so than others.
Sunchoke Production & Farming in Texas
Jerusalem artichokes grow best in November through to March. They can grow 4’11” – 9’10” tall and have rough hairy leaves that grow opposite to each other. The leaves can grow up to 12” long and become narrower as you go up the stem. The flowers are yellow and produced in capita flower heads, growing 2”-3.9” in diameter with 10-20 ray florets and over 60 disk florets. Crop molds are high – producing 16-20 tonnes of tubers and 18-28 tonnes of green weight for foliage.
The tuber that the flower produces has no oil and very little starch. It instead stores is carbohydrates as inulin, a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants, like chicory. Stored over time this inulin gets converted into its component fructose. Making for a very sweet vegetable. How sweet however depends on temperature. The tuber will produce more inulin in warmer temperatures, making a sweeter root.
Sunchokes are hardly grown as for the purpose of food these days. They are grown and used for the industrial production of inulin as a substitute for sugar, dietary fiber, and other fillers. Although countries in Europe like Germany, France, and Italy dominate the market, since 2013 the US inulin market has jumped over 20 million dollars and has been growing steadily since.
Sunchokes are also a key factor in other non-food industries such as german spirits. A big producer of the plant is a city in Germany, Baden-Württemberg. Which uses over 90% of its crop yield to ferment into a spirit called Topinambur(‘Topi’ or ‘Rossler’). This concept caught on. Because by then end of the 19th century they were used to make several different spirits such as Jerusalem artichoke brandy. Popular because of its earthy, nutty, sweet flavor.
Another use for the plant is nutritious animal feed. Although the majority of animals would fall ill and maybe even die if they ate it directly from the ground – with the exception of pigs. But after washing and production, it makes a swell meal for cattle, sheep, pigs and other livestock.
Sunchokes don’t even rank on the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Mainly because they are hardly produced as food.
Although these guys can grow practically anywhere in any conditions, wild or on a farm or garden, two of the largest commercial producers in the US are Idaho and Washington state.
In the supermarket, should you ever come across one, the root should be displayed just like any other root like ginger or turmeric. Either loose for you to choose or sealed in a plastic bag. However the majority you’ll find in capsules in powder form, as a dietary supplement, or sealed in a glass bottle with old-style German writing.
Raw sunchokes are best stored in a cool, dark, dry and well-ventilated place. They do even better in the veggie drawer of your fridge wrapped in a paper towel to absorb moisture then sealed in a plastic bag. This way they will keep up to 10 days.
The inulin in the tubers gives them a tendency to soften and become mushy when boiled, therefore they are better steamed, as they maintain their texture that way. They can also be roasted, sautéed, and even dipped in batter then fried. The human body cannot break down inulin, the main carbohydrate in the tuber, but instead is metabolized by bacteria in the colon. This can cause flatulence and, in some cases, gastric pain.
Among many other things this native root has in common with the potato. It has a very close calorie count at 73 per 100 grams. Obviously not great for dieting, but it does have an impressive vitamin and mineral count. Being high in many essential vitamins and minerals like iron, phosphorus, copper, potassium, riboflavin(B2), folate(B9), and more. It has the highest iron count of any other known edible roots and tubers.
The tuber also 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.
When Are Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes) in Season in Texas?
To find out when Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes) are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.