Jerusalem Artichokes

23 January 2018

Jerusalem Artichokes
Photo: Charles Haynes

As far as most people are concerned, the humble Jerusalem Artichoke is just a poor man’s potato. You can do with it anything you would typically do with a potato. You don’t have the starch you have with a potato - that’s a plus. It’s a slow digesting food due to the presence of inulin, giving it a reputation for causing flatulence. For most people, that would count as a minus.

Arguably, it should be promoted and become more important as a food source. Why? Because it is actually a very sustainable crop.

Jerusalem Artichokes are considered as a prime contender as a source of biofuel. Some of the traditional sources are problematic because they can only be grown on good quality arable land, which is needed to grow food for a planet that currently expects to be bearing the weight of 9 billion people. But Jerusalem Artichokes can grow perfectly well on poor quality land. They are very tolerant of drought and salinity, and robust in the face of plant diseases. They can produce biomass that is easily processed into fuel. 

And food, of course. They are a good alternative to potatoes, having a low glycemic index and act as a prebiotic.

Despite the name, these vegetables are neither from Jerusalem, nor are they true artichokes. Instead, they are tubers, with a good nutrition profile (B vitamins, potassium, niacin and iron), related to sunflowers. The tubers have a nutty, rather sweet, flavour and can be eaten raw or cooked.

If you grow your own food, they are remarkably easy to grow. Indeed, if you’re not careful they could actually become something of a weed. That’s rather what you would expect, given the notes above about their ability to thrive even in low quality growing habitats. It’s one of the survivors of the plant world. 

They’re in season between October and March. 

Flavour-wise, they go with a wide range of dishes. They can be the star of a dish, e.g. a soup or a risotto, or they can pair well with red meats or game. They can go with some of the meatier fish such as halibut or turbot, and they love mushrooms and all sorts of herbs and spices.

Once you peel Jerusalem Artichokes before cooking, you need to keep them in acidulated water to prevent them from going brown. Some people prefer to peel them after cooking, since it can be easier. You don’t actually need to peel them at all, as the peels are perfectly edible, albeit not necessarily the best aesthetic experience.

Buying

Look for smooth and unblemished tubers. They are naturally bumpy, although farmers are trying to breed this out of the newer varieties. Avoid tubers with wrinkled skins or soft spots, or that have signs of sprouting. The tubers bruise easily, so look carefully at what you’re buying for damage.

Storing

Once you’ve bought them (or dug them up) keep them in a cool, dark, dry and well-ventilated place. If they’re fresh when you get them, they’ll keep that way for two to three weeks. Once you’ve cooked them, you can keep them for a couple of days in the fridge, but they don’t freeze well.