Know your Jerusalem Artichoke - Introduction
- The Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, is a species of sunflower native to the eastern United States, from Maine west to North Dakota, and south to northern Florida and Texas.
- It is also cultivated widely across the temperate zone for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable.
Know your Jerusalem Artichoke - Common names
- Jerusalem artichoke is also called the sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambur.
Know your Jerusalem Artichoke - Botany
- It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 1.5–3 metres (4 ft 10 in–9 ft 10 in) tall with opposite leaves on the lower part of the stem becoming alternate higher up.
- The leaves have a rough, hairy texture and the larger leaves on the lower stem are broad ovoid-acute and can be up to 30 centimetres (12 in) long and the higher leaves smaller and narrower.
- The flowers are yellow, produced in capitate flower-heads which are 5–10 centimetres (2.0–3.9 in) in diameter, with 10–20 ray florets.
- The tubers are elongated and uneven, typically 7.5–10 centimetres (3.0–3.9 in) long and 3–5 centimetres (1.2–2.0 in) thick, and vaguely resembling ginger root, with a crisp texture when raw.
- They vary in colour from pale brown to white, red or purple.
Know your Jerusalem Artichoke - Uses
- Unlike most tubers, but in common with other members of the Asteraceae (including the artichoke), the tubers store the carbohydrate inulin (not to be confused with insulin) instead of starch.
- For this reason, Jerusalem artichoke tubers are an important source of fructose for industry.
- The crop yields are high, typically 16–20 tonnes/ha for tubers, and 18–28 tonnes/ha green weight for foliage.
- Jerusalem artichoke also has a great deal of unused potential as a producer of ethanol fuel, using inulin-adapted strains of yeast for fermentation.
Know your Jerusalem Artichoke - Cultivation
- Jerusalem artichokes are easy to cultivate, which tempts gardeners to simply leave them completely alone to grow.
- However, the quality of the edible tubers degrades unless the plants are dug up and replanted in fertile soil.
- This can be a chore, as even a small piece of tuber will grow if left in the ground, making the hardy plant a potential weed.
Know your Jerusalem Artichoke - Cuisine
- The tubers have a consistency much like potatoes, and in their raw form have a similar texture to potatoes, but a sweeter, nuttier flavour; raw and sliced thinly, they are fit for a salad.
- The carbohydrates give the tubers a tendency to become soft and mushy if boiled, but they retain their texture better when steamed.
- The inulin is not well digested by some people, leading in some cases to flatulence and gastric pain.