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Asian Greens: Pak choi, Chinese cabbage »« Artichoke: Globe

Artichoke Jerusalem

Helianthus tuberosus


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

The Jerusalem artichoke is not one of those vegetables you’ll find in the supermarket; you’ll have a much better chance of finding them at a farmers’ market, or, if you’re game, growing them.

The Jerusalem artichoke is absolutely no relation at all to the globe artichoke. It is, in fact, a species of sunflower that grows edible tubers, and visually bears more resemblance to ginger root. Their sweetness comes from inulin (not to be confused with insulin), a carbohydrate related to fructose that promotes beneficial gut bacteria.

While Jerusalem artichokes contain all sorts of nutrients that are great for you, such as vitamin C, iron, and potassium, inulin is something that humans can have trouble digesting and this can cause problems with flatulence. They’re a great alternative to potatoes for dieters, however, containing minimal starches and sugars.

Skins should be free from soft spots, wrinkles, and sprouting. Don’t worry about the knobbly bits – like kumara, they’re completely normal for the vegetable – but smoother, rounder ones will be easier to prepare. Store them in a cool, dark place.

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History

‘Jerusalem artichoke’ is a particularly silly name, with this vegetable being neither related to the artichoke, nor ever having had anything to do with Jerusalem. The vegetable, in fact, is native to North America, and was prized by Native Americans and early settlers as a readily available food source. However, due to their sometimes unfortunate side-effects, many believed them to be only suitable as animal feed.

They were first brought to Europe early in the 17th century and described as tasting like artichokes, which is probably how they got the name. The ‘Jerusalem’ part is thought to be a corruption of the Italian girasole, meaning ‘sunflower’.

In many parts of the world the Jerusalem artichoke was cultivated both as a food and as an ornamental, and because it grows so easily is now considered a pest in some areas.

Uses

Jerusalem artichokes can be served in the same way as potatoes: boiled, baked, roasted, or in soups. Unlike potatoes, however, they can also be used raw, with a texture like water chestnuts and a flavour like Brazil nuts. As they have a tendency to discolour when cut, sprinkle with vinegar or lemon juice if you’re not going to use them whole.

They don’t need to be peeled; most of the nutrition is found just below the skin and preparation is much easier if you just scrub them.

Facts

Jerusalem artichokes are used in industry for their fructose, and could also potentially be used as a source for ethanol fuel, using yeast that can ferment using the inulin.

In Germany, the Jerusalem artichoke is used to produce a spirit called Topinambur (the German name for the vegetable) or Rossler.



Asian Greens: Pak choi, Chinese cabbage »« Artichoke: Globe

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