What Is German Topinambur (Jerusalem Artichoke)?

Jerusalem artichokes

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German topinambur (toh-PEE- nahm-boor), or Jerusalem artichoke, is a member of the sunflower family (as are artichokes) and native to North America.

What It Looks and Tastes Like

It is a brown root resembling ginger root. It bears no resemblance to a traditional artichoke and tastes slightly nutty like a cross between an artichoke heart and a potato.

In the garden, the plant looks like a sunflower with small flowers. It can become invasive since it reproduces vegetatively from the roots.

How It Is Eaten

Topinambur can be eaten both raw and cooked and is found in many German whole-food recipes known as vollwertkost. Consider these:

  • Gratin of Celeriac and Jerusalem Artichoke Recipe: Two winter veggies are combined here and then enrobed in a creamy sauce for a perfect side dish.
  • Jerusalem Artichoke Pickles Recipe: These sweet-sour pickles are ready to eat in one week but waiting for two or more weeks only enhances their flavor.
  • Lemon Chicken Thighs with Jerusalem Artichoke Recipe: The chicken thighs are quickly browned and braised with fresh lemon juice, saffron, and other Middle Eastern spices.
  • Grilled Jerusalem Artichokes Recipe This easy recipe calls for is olive or sunflower oil, salt and pepper, and Jerusalem artichokes! They pick up great charred tones from the grill.
  • Oven-Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke RecipeLet your oven do the work for you in this set-it-and-forget-it recipe that combines olive oil, soy sauce, salt and pepper, and Jerusalem artichoke.

How It Is Grown

The plants were sent to Europe in 1610 as a starvation food, but its cultivation was soon eclipsed by the potato. Recently, topinambur has regained some importance as a crop because high yields and starch content make it of interest to the energy industry.

Topinambur is cultivated in small areas in Germany, and 90% of it is used to make a schnapps called Rossler (from Ross-Erdäpfel, since it is fed to horses) or Topi. 

Benefits for Diabetics

The root of this plant stores starch in the form of inulin, a fructose polymer. Inulin is digested in the large intestine by microorganisms, resulting in several interesting phenomena:

  • It does not spike blood sugar, making it an alternative food for diabetics.
  • It acts as a dietary fiber by binding water in a gel and moving food through the digestive tract. As with many insoluble fibers, this can cause gastric distress in humans not accustomed to it.
  • It is also sold in natural-food stores as a sweet syrup and as a chewable tablet that swells in the stomach and decreases hunger.

Also Known As

The scientific name of topinambur is Helianthus tuberosus. It also is known as sunchoke, sunroot, Jerusalem artichoke, indianerknolle, erdartischocke, erdschocke, ewigkeitskartoffel, knollensonnenblume, rosskartoffel, zuckerkartoffel.