None other than the wild, intensely free-thinking Beat poet Allen Ginsberg said, "We're all golden sunflowers inside." If Ginsberg ever ate Jerusalem artichoke, he would have literally had a sunflower inside him!April 01, 2019 8:23 pm
The Jerusalem artichoke is also called sunchoke, sunroot, or earth apple. It is actually the edible tuber of a specific type of sunflower. The appearance of sunchoke is similar to ginger root rather than to the bright yellow of sunflowers. Sunroot is naturally sweet and very good for you. Actively cultivated by Native Americans, these tubers were appreciated by early European settlers. Sent back to Europe by settlers, they became widespread on the continent. Sunflowers have always been in fashion and probably will always be. However, due to the growing popularity of potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes fell out of sight on both continents for many years. They are currently being rediscovered as a vegetable. Once planted, sunroots endure and come up again and again. They can even become invasive. People wanting to grow sunchokes in backyards or as a crop should be aware of this.
What are tubers, exactly?
Many of us confuse tubers with roots. The dictionary definition of tubers are “a much thickened underground part of a stem or rhizome, e.g. in the potato, serving as a food reserve and bearing buds from which new plants arise.”
Other tubers that we regularly eat include yams, burdock, and salsify. Maybe this gives you an idea of how you might include Jerusalem artichokes in your diet, if you have not done so yet. They can be prepared in many of the same ways as potatoes, parsnips, and other such vegetables. We all know how incredibly versatile potatoes are, but feel sunchokes have a much more interesting flavour. They are tangy and pungent, like an artichoke heart crossed with a potato. We think they are delicious roasted, grilled, mashed, or as a base for a lovely soup.
A Jerusalem artichoke by any other name….
As you probably have noted, the second half of the romantic name possessed by this tuber comes from the flavour. Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer and “Father of New France” who died in 1635, was the first person on record to note the similarity to the taste of artichoke. Nobody knows exactly where the first half of the name comes from. It might have been a mispronunciation of girasole, the Italian word for sunflower. Another possibility is that Puritan settlers in the New World christened the plant after the New Jerusalem they dreamt of creating. In any case, it’s a rather nice moniker, isn’t it? The potato didn’t really get lucky in its name! But a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet…
One major difference between the Jerusalem artichoke and the potato, though, is that Jerusalem artichokes are nice eaten raw. You could grate them into a salad in a similar way to jicama, for instance. The skins of sunchokes are edible and some people like the rooty flavour. However, the skins are gristly and will need to be tidied up if you want to try eating them.
Interestingly, the alternative name by which many people now know Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes, was only conceived in the 1960s. Frieda Caplan, a Californian woman selling vegetables and fruits in bulk, came up with it in an effort to popularise the by then unknown vegetable. Looks like it worked! Caplan also introduced fresh mushrooms, kiwi fruits (which she also named), and many other types of produce to the American consumer. If intrigued by this quietly revolutionary woman, the documentary Fear No Fruit may be worth a watch.
Inulin promotes gut health.
Inulin is a type of fibre contained in sunchokes. It is not digestible by our bodies and we need the bacteria in our gut to help us deal with it. The bacteria sometimes produce gas as a result of this process, which can result in bloating. Whether this does happen depends on the sunchoke eaten and on the person eating it. Inulin is most likely to affect people when the sunchoke is eaten raw. So, it’s best to proceed lightly. Even when eating cooked sunchokes, you might want to mix them with other vegetables at first, so you can gradually observe how they affect you. Inulin is what gives Jerusalem artichoke its wonderful flavour. So, like most things and people, it comes as a mixed blessing…
Are you really paranoid about inulin affecting you and do you have a lot of time on your hands? Cooking sunchokes for 12 hours or more at 90°C / 194°F will remove all threat of this vegetable causing you to pass wind.
We at Erbology are fans of inulin because the roundabout way that our bodies process it is actually very good for the digestive system. Inulin cannot be digested. It remains in our body and ferments in the lower gut. As a prebiotic, it then becomes good bacteria and other useful microorganisms in your gut which help you digest food more efficiently. The fructans in inulins feed the beneficial bacteria as well. The more good guys there are in your gut, the less of the bad bacteria there are. The indigestible fibre in inulin also creates bulk, promoting the water content in your stool. It helps regular, healthy bowel activity happen.
"Jerusalem artichoke is a medium GI food and is easy on your blood sugar levels - not a small consideration for busy urbanites."
The addition of inulin to your diet is a major reason that we offer an Organic Jerusalem Artichoke Powder. This raw powder is not an extract and does not contain any additives or preservatives. Jerusalem artichoke is a medium GI food and is easy on your blood sugar levels – not a small consideration for busy urbanites.
Suffer from fatigue or mood swings, like so many of us?
Jerusalem artichoke powder can help stabilise your energy levels and keep you at a tranquil, even keel throughout the day. The iron also naturally contained in Jerusalem artichoke is wonderful backup for your physical and mental wellbeing. Sunroot powder is an easy addition to your daily meals. The light and slightly sweet flavour is a lovely match for smoothies, porridges, or yogurts, and likewise, for pasta or baked goods. It has a wonderfully crunchy texture that adds interest to the consistency of your favourite dishes.
Jerusalem artichoke is rich in the sulfur-containing essential amino acids taurine, methionine, homocysteine and cysteine. These help your connective tissue stay pliant. Connective tissue includes cartilage, blood, and bone. It lives in-between other types of tissue all over your body. Sulfur-containing amino acids also support your liver in its all-important cleansing activities.(1)
The ingredient also makes a star appearance in our Tigernut Granola with Jerusalem Artichoke. This granola has organic dark cacao powder. That makes it the more sophisticated, grown-up, and much more healthy version of that breakfast cereal your mother didn’t let you eat when you were a kid.
More minerals in Jerusalem artichoke
Minerals, such as iron and copper, provide an energy kick and support hair growth. The high potassium content of sunchokes is especially beneficial for people at risk of high blood pressure. Potassium can also work to reduce heart disease.(2) In addition, Jerusalem artichoke contains thiamine (vitamin B1). Thiamine is essential for the healthy functioning of the nervous system and muscles.
What else do the scientists say?
Historically, Jerusalem artichoke was used as a folk remedy for diabetes, and scientists are starting to back that up with concrete data. A study carried out by Korean scientists found that Jerusalem artichoke improved insulin secretion and sensitivity in diabetic rats.(3) Research also shows that the fructans in inulin act to stop the growth of cancerous tumour cells in the colon.(4) Interestingly, another study shows that helping the microflora in the gut also relieves blood pressure.(5)
Key sunroot benefits
- Promotes digestion
- Boosts immunity
- Stabilises energy levels
Jerusalem artichoke recipes
We love making something a little more consoling for breakfast than our usual yogurts, smoothies, and toasts when there’s time. This pancake recipe has a winning balance of sweet and sharp. Lemon zest, crunchy sunchoke powder, and fresh apple enliven the more nurturing flavours of cinnamon, vanilla, maple, and agave. Spread apple puree through the cooked flesh of the pancakes themselves, then rhyme in the topping. This sort of detail adds an interesting complexity and texture to vegetarian or vegan recipes. Try combining cooked and raw cauliflower in particular! For now, let’s begin with this recipe.
If you are looking for other ways of enjoying sunroot, try one of our three varieties of Organic Raw Energy Balls. They’re perfect pre-workout or simply to enjoy throughout the day whenever you’re flagging and need a healthy boost.
(1) Atmaca G, “Antioxidant effects of sulfur-containing amino acids.” Yonsei Medical Journal, 2004, https://bit.ly/2NgB7OR.
(2) Cogswell et al, “Sodium and potassium intakes among US adults: NHANES 2003-2008.”, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2012, https://bit.ly/2ShnOhS.
(3) Jeong Yang et al, “Jerusalem artichoke and chungkookjang additively improve insulin secretion and sensitivity in diabetic rats”, Nutrition & Metabolism, 2012, https://bit.ly/2GEYrpd.
(4) Pool-Zubel BL, “Inulin-type fructans and reduction in colon cancer risk: review of experimental and human data.” British Journal of Nutrition, 2005, https://bit.ly/2E0lYwX.
(5) Yeo SK et al, “Antihypertensive properties of plant-based prebiotics.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2009, https://bit.ly/2IoLAJ7.