Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), also called sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambour, is a species of sunflower native to eastern North America, and found from eastern Canada and Maine west to North Dakota, and south to northern Florida and Texas. It is also cultivated widely across the temperate zone for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable.
The Jerusalem Artichoke is indigenous in the central part of North America and was cultivated by the Indians who introduced it to the Europeans. The tubers have been in considerable repute in parts of continental Europe, but, although often found in our markets, they are not greatly appreciated by the American people.
The flesh is watery and sweet and with a peculiar flavor which is palatable to some tastes, disagreeable to others. Many persons like the tubers as a salad or pickle.
When cooked they are prepared as a puree or peeled and baked, with liberal oil or butter, or escalloped with crumbs which absorb the mucilaginous juice. The tubers have been extensively cultivated in the past and the plants are now thoroughly naturalized along roadsides, in borders of fields or in town-dumps throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada.
Jerusalem artichokes thrive in neglected waste areas and produce a large amount of starchy tubers. This makes them an excellent plant for guerrilla gardening in vacant lots and other urban-blighted areas. They belong to the same family as sunflowers and produce similar flowers in the late summer/fall.
As the tuber grow during the summer they are filled with a large starch molecule called inulin. Inulin tastes sweet but is a very complex carbohydrate which the human digestive system can not break down to extract any usable calories. Tubers eaten in the summer or fall will give you some minerals, a few vitamins, and some fiber but the inulin starch will just pass through the digestive track. Sidenote: some bacteria in the gut can eat this inulin and after doing so this bacteria will produce quite a bit of methane gas – which may lead to excessive flatulence.
However, after the first frost of the year the tuber starts producing a slow-acting enzyme which breaks the inulin down into simple sugars that the plant will use to grow new stalks in the spring. We can digest/metabolize these simple sugars. This means if we have to wait until late winter to harvest the tuber to get calories from them.
If possible leave the tubers in the ground during winter and just dig them up as need. This works great in Houston or other southern climates. Tubers stored in a refrigerator tend to get mushy for some reason. If you are up north store the tubers outside in a covered wooden box filled with loose, dry sand.
Jerusalem artichoke tubers were a staple food of many Native American tribes and were spread throughout North America via trade between tribes. However, they were not actively cultivated like corn, squash, beans or other well-known native crops. The tubers were buried and then the plants were usually just ignored until late winter when the natives were running low on stored food. At this time the women would go searching for field mouse homes to raid for Jerusalem artichoke tubers. The mice loved the tubers and would spend a great deal of time digging them up and stockpiling them around their nest. The women would then just steal them from the mice.
The most common use of the Jerusalem Artichoke is as a coffee substitute or sweetener.
Tubers – raw or cooked. The tuber develops a pleasant sweetness during the winter, especially if subjected to frosts, and is then reasonably acceptable raw.
Otherwise it is generally best cooked, and can be used in all the ways that potatoes are used. The tubers are rich in inulin, a starch which the body cannot digest, so Jerusalem artichokes provide a bulk of food without many calories.
Some people are not very tolerant of inulin, it tends to ferment in their guts and can cause quite severe wind. The tubers are fairly large, up to 10cm long and 6cm in diameter. The tubers bruise easily and lose moisture rapidly so are best left in the ground and harvested as required. The inulin from the roots can be converted into fructose, a sweet substance that is safe for diabetics to use.
The roasted tubers are a coffee substitute.
Reported to be aperient, aphrodisiac, cholagogue, diuretic, spermatogenetic, stomachic, and tonic, Jerusalem artichoke is a folk remedy for diabetes and rheumatism
The plants are a good source of biomass. The tubers are used in industry to make alcohol etc. The alcohol fermented from the tubers is said to be of better quality than that from sugar beets.
A fast-growing plant, Jerusalem artichokes can be grown as a temporary summer screen]. Very temporary, it is July before they reach a reasonable height and by October they are dying down.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 pounds jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 quart chicken stock (use vegetable stock for vegetarian option, and gluten-free stock if cooking gluten-free)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat and cook the onions and celery until soft, about 5 minutes. Do not brown them. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Sprinkle with salt.
- Add the Jerusalem Artichokes and the chicken stock to the pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, until the jerusalem artichokes begin to break down, 45 minutes to an hour.
- Using an immersion blender or upright blender, purée the soup. If using an upright blender, fill the blender bowl up only to a third of capacity at a time, if the soup is hot, and hold down the lid while blending. Alternately, you can push the soup through the finest grate on a food mill, or push it through a sturdy sieve. Add salt to taste.
Sprinkle with freshly grated black pepper to serve.
Where Does Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus Tuberosus)?
How To Identify Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus Tuberosus)
First true leaves are oppositely arranged and elliptic in outline. Leaves are covered with short hairs and are 4 to 10 inches long and 1 1/2 to 5 inches wide. Mature leaves become more lanceolate in outline and taper to a point. All leaves have toothed margins and occur on petioles. Upper leaves on the flowering stem are alternate unlike the lower leaves which are opposite.
May reach 10 feet in height, are robust, and are covered with hairs.
Bright yellow, showy flower heads are produced at the ends of the stems. Each flower head is approximately 2 inches in diameter and contains 8 to 20 outer yellow flowers (ray flowers) that enclose the dark yellow to brown disk flowers.
An achene that may reach 8 mm in length.
Rhizomes that end in oval tubers that are relatively large and reddish in color. Jerusalem artichoke is sometimes grown for its edible tubers.
The robust stems, presence of tubers, and unique arrangement of leaves on the lower and upper portions of the plant are all characteristics that help to distinguish Jerusalem artichoke from most other weeds. Common sunflower and many other Helianthus spp. are very similar in appearance to Jerusalem artichoke, however none of these other species have tubers like Jerusalem artichoke.
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