Jerusalem Artichokes

18 Interesting Facts About Jerusalem Artichoke

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Introduction

The Jerusalem artichoke is a tasty tuberous root vegetable that is rich in history and intrigue. Though the name might suggest these knotty tubers hail from the Middle East, they are native to North America and a member of the sunflower family.

Jerusalem artichokes offer a sweet, nutty flavor and crunchy texture similar to water chestnuts. They make a great addition to soups, salads, and stir-fries, adding color, taste, and nutrients.

Read on to learn 18 fascinating facts about this underappreciated veggie:

Facts About Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem Artichokes by allispossible.org.uk is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .
  1. The Jerusalem artichoke isn’t actually from Jerusalem. The name is a distortion of the Italian word “girasole,” which means sunflower. This refers to the fact that the plant is a variety of sunflower native to North America.
  2. They are one of the oldest cultivated crops in North America. Jerusalem artichokes have been grown here for thousands of years and were an important part of Native American diets long before Europeans arrived.
  3. The Jerusalem artichoke goes by many other names including sunchoke, sunroot, earth apple and topinambour. The many monikers can make this tasty tuber confusing to identify!
  4. They are not related to globe artichokes at all despite the similar name. Jerusalem artichokes are actually the tuber of a plant in the daisy family, while globe artichokes are the flower buds of a type of thistle.
  5. Jerusalem artichokes are nutritious. One cup of cooked jerusalem artichoke contains 10% of the RDI for iron, 14% of the RDI for potassium, and a whopping 33% of the RDI for vitamin B1. They are also high in thiamine, niacin, magnesium, and phosphorus.
  6. They have an extremely high inulin content – a unique fiber that acts as a prebiotic to feed healthy gut bacteria. This makes them an excellent choice for digestive health.
  7. Since jerusalem artichokes contain fructans and inulin fiber rather than starch, they are lower in calories than potatoes. One cup contains about 100 calories compared to a russet potato which has closer to 150 calories per cup.
  8. The best time to harvest jerusalem artichokes is after the first frost when the cold causes the starches to convert to inulin fiber. This results in a sweeter flavor.
  9. When exposed to heat, the inulin in jerusalem artichoke breaks down causing flatulence in some people. That’s why they are best enjoyed raw or lightly cooked to preserve the nutrients and prevent gas.
  10. When left in the ground, jerusalem artichoke tubers can spread rapidly and take over a garden. The plant is actually considered invasive in some regions because of how quickly it reproduces via the root system.
  11. Native Americans reportedly fed jerusalem artichokes to hogs to fatten them before slaughter. This led early European settlers to cultivate them for livestock feed.
  12. During the Great Depression, the jerusalem artichoke experienced a resurgence in popularity because it was a cheap, readily available food source when other vegetables were scarce.
  13. They make an excellent substitute for water chestnuts. Their crisp texture holds up well to stir frying, allowing them to soak up the flavors of Asian-style dishes.
  14. Jerusalem artichokes contain actinidin, a protein-digesting enzyme similar to one found in kiwi that makes them an excellent meat tenderizer.
  15. When shopping, look for jerusalem artichokes that are firm, smooth, and free of blemishes. Avoid any that show signs of mold, wrinkling, or soft wet spots.
  16. Properly stored in a cool dark place, jerusalem artichokes can keep for 2-3 months. Don’t wash until ready to use, and don’t refrigerate as cold causes the flavor to become unpleasantly sweet.
  17. To prevent oxidation, you can submerge chopped jerusalem artichoke in acidulated water until ready to cook. This will keep them from turning brown.
  18. Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten raw, roasted, sautéed, baked into bread, or turned into soup. Their versatility makes them easy to incorporate into many dishes!

Conclusion

In closing, Jerusalem artichokes are a versatile, tasty, and nutrient-packed vegetable with a long history in North America. Though the name is misleading, these tuberous sunflower roots offer a sweet, nutty flavor that works well in both sweet and savory dishes.

With health benefits ranging from gut health to inflammation reduction, it’s time this underappreciated tuber got more time in the spotlight. Try some jerusalem artichoke recipes to take advantage of their great nutritional profile and addictive crunch. Just beware – if you leave them in the garden too long you might end up with more than you bargained for!


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