The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) or ‘sunchoke’ is a species of sunflower native to eastern North America. This perennial plant has beautiful yellow flowers, grows between 5 – 10 feet in height, and produces tubers which are used as root vegetables. The tubers are thick, uneven and some of them resemble ginger root in appearance. They are crispy (like water chestnut) when raw and may vary in color from white to pale brown, to red or purple.
Despite its name, the Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke, nor does it have any connection to Jerusalem. Easily cultivated, the tubers overwinter quite well in the soil, and can easily be pulled up as needed (unless of course the ground is frozen).
Jerusalem artichokes contain about 10% protein, no oil, and very little starch. Jerusalem artichokes have 650 mg potassium per cup, are high in iron, and contain 10% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and roughly 12% of the recommended daily allowance of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus and copper. Jerusalem artichokes are rich in the carbohydrate inulin, and tubers which are stored for any length of time will convert their inulin into fructose; Jerusalem artichokes may have an underlying sweet taste because of this.
Tubers may be used as a substitute for potatoes (when eaten raw, they have a taste and texture not unlike water chestnuts). They retain their texture better if steamed, as they may become soft and mushy when boiled. Sliced and fried, or made into a soup or added to stews, however, they will mimic potatoes.
Note: the inulin contained in the Jerusalem artichoke is not broken down by the human digestive system, but is instead metabolized by bacteria in the colon. This process may or may not cause flatulence to a greater or lesser degree, so it is wise to start off by eating a small portion of Jerusalem artichoke at first. This author eats alarming amounts of Jerusalem artichokes with no problem.
Here is a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke chips. The chips can be made up to a couple of hours ahead of time. Season the chips with whatever interests you (Fresh rosemary? Fresh thyme?) or simply enjoy with sea salt. The Spice Rack at PNC 2nd Street market has the sea salt you will need, and The Olive Tree (also at 2nd Street Market) has many different olive oils to choose from. You will likely have to grow your own Jerusalem artichokes, although on occasion Meijer grocery has them in the produce section.
Jerusalem artichoke chips
- 2 pounds unpeeled Jerusalem artichokes), scrubbed well
- Olive oil (for frying)
- 1 tablespoon unprocessed sea salt
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary (or thyme, or basil, etc). Optional.
Thinly slice Jerusalem artichokes, rinse, drain, and pay dry with paper towels.
Pour oil into large skillet to 1/2 inch or so. Mix 1 tablespoon salt and other herbs (if desired) in small bowl. Blend well, rubbing salt and rosemary together. Working in batches, fry Jerusalem artichokes slices over medium-high heat until golden brown, turning occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer chips to paper towels to drain, and sprinkle with sea salt/herbs while still hot. Enjoy!