Living in Northern Canada, one quickly learns that when one sees something new in the food-store one should grab it because it may disappear quickly and, perhaps, not be available again. When I saw the little objects you see pictured above, I almost passed them by as I thought they were root ginger. It was only when I looked closer that I saw the label identifying them as Jerusalem Artichokes. I had heard of these before but I don’t believe I have ever actually seen them. Naturally, I couldn’t pass them up.
My experience with Artichokes has been rather limited in the past and actually remains so after this present purchase because Jerusalem Artichokes are not really artichokes at all and do not, for that matter, have anything to do with Jerusalem. The name, I gather, is actually a corruption of the Italian word ‘girasole’, meaning sunflower and the part one eats is actually a tuber from a flowering plant in the same genus as the more familiar sunflower. The name artichoke is thus a bit horticulturally misleading and it is perhaps for this reason that one sees the referred to with increasing frequency as ‘sunchokes’ across the internet.
The tubers have a similarity to potatoes in consistency and, indeed, many recipes for potatoes are easily adapted to the Jerusalem Artichoke as well. One can easily find recipes where they are scalloped, gratineed and even mashed, as well as being used in soups and chowders, or braised, fried, or roasted. Unlike potatoes, they are also pleasant when raw and thus are useful in salads as well. Another difference between these tubers and the more common potato is that they store their carbohydrate in a form of a soluble fiber known as Inulin. Inulin is not to be confused with Insulin but it does have some significance to diabetics, like myself, as this particular form of carbohydrate has a low glycemic index. It also, apparently, can have a definite ‘musical’ after-effect in some people and, on one site, it was placed at the very top of the list of ‘fart-prompting’ vegetables. An honorable distinction indeed!
I planned to use the tubers I bought in a cooked preparation of some sort but before that I wanted to do a taste test in its raw state. Jerusalem Artichokes can be peeled before use or just merely scrubbed to remove any surface dirt. The latter makes the most sense from a nutritional standpoint because it appears that, like the potato, many of the nutrients are in, or just under the skin. For my raw-tasting, though, I decided to peel one. It must be noted at this point that once Jerusalem Artichokes are peeled, they oxidize and blacken in very short order. As with apple slices, you can prevent this by letting them sit in acidulated water if you are not going to cook them immediately. I did this, using a few drops of lemon juice for the acid. Before going on to describe the actual taste experience, I just want to add that I tasted one slice before putting the others in the acidulated water and I found that, after I had swallowed, my mouth was left with a slight ‘starchy’ residue. It was not as nastily unpalatable as the same effect you get from a raw potato but it was noticeable. After soaking, though, this was not apparent at all so the acid rinse, aside from the discoloration issue, is a definite benefit if one is using the tubers raw.
Anyway, after draining the slices, I dried them off and served them with a little salt on the side so that my wife and I could both have a taste. The verdict, in short, is that we both enjoyed them. The texture is indeed something like a raw potato but they reminded me more of water chestnuts. The taste is very mild and, again, they put me most in mind of water chestnuts but with a definite sweetness and a nuttier flavor. Fresh water chestnuts are not something I expect to see here in Nunavut at any time in the near future and the canned ones always have a metallic taste I find, so, in addition to any other uses, Jerusalem Artichokes would make a great substitute in Chinese dishes.
In deciding how to cook the tubers, I did a bit of surfing and came up with some interesting results. I am going to share just a few of these with you so you can get some idea of the range of uses. Here are the links:
- Apple and Jerusalem Artichoke Salad.
- Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke Soup.
- Jerusalem Artichoke Pancakes.
- Jerusalem Artichoke Pickles.
- Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes.
- Scalloped Jerusalem Artichokes.
After a fair bit of consideration, I have decided that I am going to try roasting the few tubers that I have. I am not sure of the details as yet and I will be thinking about it in the next day or so. Naturally, I will be posting the results of my experiment in due course and will share my thoughts. Possibly, I may also include a full report on any ‘musical’ effects that occur.