When is an artichoke not an artichoke? When it’s a Jerusalem artichoke. Not only is it not an artichoke, it isn’t even from Jerusalem. In fact it’s a variety of sunflower, so why was it called a Jerusalem artichoke?
The belief is that it was due to a mispronunciation. The Italian word for sunflower is “girasole” and somehow the pronunciation was made to sound like Jerusalem; the artichoke part came from North American explorer Samuel Champlain. When he first tasted the root back in 1605 he thought the taste was reminiscent of an artichoke.
With their knobby appearance they resemble ginger, but don’t let the name or appearance deter you from trying them because they have a mild taste and are easy to prepare.
In the grocery store you will see them labeled as sunchokes, and they are in season right now. They are one of the few tubers native to North America and were popular with Native Americans who called them sun-roots.
Sunchokes are useful as a potato substitute for diabetics because they store their carbohydrates in the form of insulin rather than starch. They are a good source of potassium, thiamin, iron, copper and a great source of iron and fiber. Sunchokes also contain inulin, which is a soluble plant fiber that has been shown to improve gut, heart and metabolic health. You can cook them the same way you would cook potatoes; roast, mash or slice thinly and make chips.
When eaten raw they have a taste similar to a water chestnuts or jicama, so you can add them to a salad. Having tried them both ways I prefer them roasted with a little olive oil, but feel free to experiment.
Next time you find yourself cruising through the produce aisle and are yearning to try something new, seek out some sunchokes. They won’t be around for long.