Sunchokes Helianthus tuberosus L.are also called Jerusalem artichokes, but it has no relationship to Jerusalem and it is not an artichoke. The better known common names for this yellow flower are sunroot, sunchoke and earth apple.
Sunchoke is the modern common name used to avoid confusion with artichokes for cooking purposes, but it does have a mild artichoke flavour.
Sunchoke is a very tall prolific perennial plant that is native to North America, and has a long history of being used by Native Americans as a root vegetable. The sunchoke flowers belong to the same family as sunflowers, and the flowers follow the sun like sunflowers do. They like to grow wild and they need lots of space, because it likes to multiply. The stalks and leaves are rough and hairy. The roots are starchy tubers that look a little like ginger rhizomes, and are edible like a potato.
It was a popular plant to use to hide the outhouse or to put in front of other unsightly eyesores, as it creates a thick, tall hedge that requires no maintenance, unless overpopulation is an issue. Perhaps there is a warning in there somewhere among the yellow flowers.
Sunchoke is becoming popular food for thought again, but when consuming lots of sun chokes it may cause digestion disturbance in the form of …um… gaseous upset. It has earned the nickname “fartichokes.” Eat a little and see how well your digestion system tolerates it.
The edible tuber roots have a high inulin content, which is a type of soluble fibre. Inulin is a carbohydrate with sweet polysaccharides that is safe for diabetics, and it is pre-biotic. Containing the Pre-biotic (FOS) Fructo-Oligio-Saccharide means that it promotes healthy bacteria, which is beneficial for feeding healthy flora in the digestion system. It balances yeast and has a positive impact on overall health. It breaks down into fructose in the gut, but might be hard to digest for some people, and may cause cramping, bloating and excessive wind, especially when consumed in a large quantities. It relieves constipation.
It is best to wait until the first or second frost to harvest, and they are dug up until springtime, weather permitting of course, or buy them where you get fresh produce. Some people prefer the springtime to dig them up. They are available year round, but peak season is October-March.
It is also best to dead head the flowers if the roots are going to get dug up and eaten, they will grow bigger.
Store up to one to three weeks raw, but once cooked eat right away. Some people say they are better stored in the fridge for a week before eating.
They are a good source of iron, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin C, FOS and of course fibre, Inulin. It improves calcium absorption, lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Sunchokes are good medicinal food, but eat sparingly at first.
WAYS TO PREPARE SUNCHOKES
Sunchokes will oxidize like a potato so dip them in water with lemon juice or keep them in water until ready to use, because they will turn brown. Do not cook in aluminum or iron pans.
The skins are edible like ginger skin is, and when cooking it is best to leave the skins on and remove peels later if desired. Wash, scrub and remove rootlets or strings if any are present before cooking. Goes well with mint, onion, garlic, chives, thyme, cumin, black cumin, pepper, turmeric, rosemary, lemon citrus, lemon verbena, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.
Eat Sunchokes raw topped on a salad or mixed in salsa, grated or thinly sliced and tastes like jicama. Try small amounts at first to see if your digestion can handle it this way. They can also be added to juicing recipes.
I wonder what it would be like thinly sliced and pickled like ginger.
Sun chokes are better steamed and not boiled, which will make them mushy. It does make good puréed soup mixed with nut or coconut milk.
SAUTÉ or STIR-FRY
They make a great water chestnut stir-fry substitute, they have a similar texture and taste.
Oven bake them brushed with oil and herbal seasonings and bake for 20-40 minutes at 375 degrees.
Bake with sweet potatoes and other root vegetables to make root chips.
I wonder what they would taste like flavoured and then put in the dehydrator and dehydrated overnight.
Food and Cooking (2004 edition), page 307, Harold McGee indicates that the flatulent effects of Sunchoke roots are due to complex fructose-based carbohydrates that are not digestible by humans.
Long, slow cooking allows enzymes present in the fresh tuber to convert these to fructose over time.
McGee recommends 12-24 hours at 200 F / 93 C.
The result will be soft and sweet, akin to a vegetable aspic.
Note that the ogliosacharrides in beans are a different class than the inulin in Sunchokes, and the digestive supplement Beano is not effective with sunchoke.