The Jerusalem artichoke is a neglected crop which can be exceedingly productive in a home garden. I rarely see it in grocery stores and even more rarely meet people familiar with it. Yet this was once a common crop, utilized by many Native Americans in much of North America. Once European explorers carried this plant back to Europe, it became more popular there, than in North America, and there it continues its popularity to this day.
The Jerusalem artichoke is also known by other names, such as “sunchoke” and “sunroot.” You see, it is neither from Jerusalem, nor is it related to an artichoke. “Jerusalem artichoke” is a corruption of the Italian name girasole articiocco, which helps explain part of the name. Girasole means sunflower. Jerusalem artichokes are a type of sunflower. One knows this when they see them in flower. They produce hundreds of small sunflowers! Articiocco means artichoke. Why do they say artichoke? Someone thought they reminded them of artichokes, yet they don’t taste at all like artichokes.
The edible part of the Jerusalem artichoke is the root.
Sunchoke roots can be eaten almost any way one eats a potato. We’ve eaten them boiled, baked, mashed and in French fries. However, because of the unique starch (called inulin) in these roots, one ought to boil them at least once, discarding the water and then either boil one more time or cook in whatever other manner desired, after boiling. This is to reduce the level of inulin. Inulin is quite slow to break down in the human digestive track; slower in some people’s digestive systems than in others. The result is that these roots are healthier for anyone struggling with blood sugar, yet care must be to avoid extreme flatulence. The extra boiling helps quite a bit.
Extra boiling helps cut down on inulin induced flatulence (gas).
My friend, Ron Cook, once conspired with a couple of his grand kids to prank their parents when they were about to embark on a several hour road trip. Just before they left, he fed each grand kid about a pound of cooked Jerusalem artichoke roots.The grand kids thought this was an awesome way to prank their parents! I imagine they drove with the car windows open!
I know of three ways to avoid the gas problem that often accompanies these roots
- Double boiling (mentioned above)
- Eat them raw. We’ve never had the slightest issue when we eat them raw. Plus, they’re delicious! Raw sunchokes taste like water chestnut or jicama.
- Slow cook them in a stew. If cooked 12-24 hours at low heat it seems to cut down on the flatulence issue.
Sunchokes are easy to grow!
They have few pests, the worst being rodents, which can eat a lot of roots. They are exceedingly productive. One plant can produce up to FIVE GALLONS of roots! They are perennials. No matter how thorough you think you’ve harvested, I can about guarantee that some small plants will spring up from “nubbins” which escaped the harvest. Small sprouts are easy to transplant.They can be planted any time after fall’s first killing frost (by planting small roots), until sprouts are more than a foot tall (by planting sprouts) For us this is sometime in late April or early May.
I plant Jerusalem artichokes about 3′ apart in a row.
The easiest way to harvest these, is just to dig them when you need them. The roots are unharmed by freezing and, in fact, have better flavor after a good freeze. But if you want dig more, just keep them in the crisper drawer of the fridge, wrapped with some damp paper towels in a plastic bag. This way they can last for months.