What Are Jerusalem Artichokes or Sunchokes?
The knobby sunchoke tubers look similar to ginger roots, with light brown skin which may be tinged with yellow, red, or purple depending on the soil they are grown in. They are 3 to 4 inches long and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Just as with potatoes, they can be baked, boiled, steamed, fried, and stewed. However, they will cook faster than potatoes and can easily be turned to mush in a matter of minutes if you do not monitor them closely.
One theory holds that Jerusalem is a corruption of the Italian girasola, meaning "turning toward the sun," a reference to the sunflower. Another theory involves another garbling of the Ter Neusen, the Netherlands area where the sunchoke was originally introduced to Europe. Today, you will find them marketed under the less foreign-sounding name of sunchokes. Other names are Canada or French potato, topinambour or topinambur.
Over 200 varieties of Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes are now available. They are used not only in many commercial products as a fructose source but also to make alcohol. Sunchokes are more popular in Europe than in America.
Jerusalem artichoke, botanically named Helianthus tuberosus, is the tuber of a variety of perennial flowers in the aster family. The flowers look like small yellow sunflowers. Also marketed as sunchokes, these little tubers look a lot like ginger root.
Availability, Selection, and Storage
Although available year-round, prime season in North America is from October to April, and they are best dug after a light frost.
Choose smooth, clean, unblemished, firm tubers with a minimum of bumps. Avoid those with wrinkled skins, soft spots, blotched green areas or sprouts.
Handle sunchokes with care as they will bruise easily. Raw sunchokes should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from light. They may also be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, wrapped in paper towels to absorb humidity, and sealed in a plastic bag. Depending on how long they have been sitting at the market, raw sunchokes can be stored for 1 to 3 weeks. Cooked sunchokes should be refrigerated and consumed within 2 days. Canning and freezing are not recommended due to discoloration and deterioration of texture.
How to Cook Sunchokes
Jerusalem artichokes may be eaten raw or cooked. Before eating or cooking, scrub the tubers thoroughly with a vegetable brush. Peeling can be difficult due to the protuberances and is not necessary. The peels are perfectly edible. However, if you must peel them, slice off the smaller bumpy areas and remove the skin with a vegetable peeler. If you will be eating them cooked, you will find it easier to boil, steam or microwave them whole and unpeeled first, and then peel if necessary.
Sunchokes store their carbohydrates in a form of inulin, a starch that is not utilized by the body for energy, unlike sugar. They are recommended as a potato substitute for diabetics since they are filling but not absorbed by the body, and because they also show indications of assisting in blood sugar control. Jerusalem artichoke flour is also recommended for those who are allergic to wheat and other grains.