This crunchy root vegetable comes with an intriguing history along with a wide spectrum of uses. Native to North America, it bears no connection to the ancient city of Jerusalem. Nor is it related—except by similarity in taste and a shared membership in the daisy family—to the artichoke. Twice misnamed, the Jerusalem artichoke is increasingly referred to as sunchoke or sunroot owing to its inclusion in the sunflower clan. This unassuming plant was spotlighted during the 1980s when a pyramid scheme promoting wide-scale conversion of acreage found many Midwestern farmers going broke with a less-than-popular crop and a few seed sellers at the top of the pyramid raking in a fortune.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
Boasting a myriad of uses, the Jerusalem artichoke is a welcome addition to the dinner table, being of special benefit to diabetics. Its carbohydrates come in the form of inulin rather than starch, the former being converted into fructose when stored in the ground or refrigerated. A good substitute for the ubiquitous potato, Jerusalem artichokes boast a sweeter, nuttier flavor. High in potassium (650 mg per cup), this tasty tuber is also rich in iron, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus, copper and fiber. In 2002, it was voted the best soup vegetable at a French festival. In 1605, the explorer Samuel de Champlain sent the Jerusalem artichoke to his native France, and from there it spread across Europe. Industrial alcohols are rendered from this useful tuber.
ABOUT THE HERB
A species of sunflower, the Jerusalem artichoke hails from eastern North America. This herbaceous perennial grows from 5 to 10 feet in height, producing bright yellow flowers. Edible tubers somewhat resembling the ginger root grow between 3 and 4 inches in length, ranging in color from white, red, purple or pale brown.
Best eaten raw to maximize its array of nutrients often destroyed by cooking, the Jerusalem artichoke adds sparkle to your salad by lending a crispness that brings to mind the water chestnut. Slice thin and enjoy each crunchy bite!