Jerusalem Artichoke

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Although it goes by the name of Jerusalem artichoke, it has absolutely no connection with Jerusalem nor does it have any relation to the true artichoke! It is actually more closely related to the sunflower. According to one school of thought, the word Jerusalem is derived from the Italian word ‘girasole’ meaning ‘turning toward the sun’ just like the sunflower does. Another thought is that ‘Artichoke’ is a distortion of the Arabic word ‘al-khurshuf,’ relating to its out of the ground foliation. Yet another thought claims it is a distortion of the ‘Ter Neusen,’ the part of Netherlands from where it was initially launched into Europe.

The vegetable also goes by the names of sun-root and sun-choke.  The lumpy tuber has light brown skin, looks like ginger root and has a crunchy, nutty sweet taste similar to that of chestnuts. It develops underground like the potato, however, it is more difficult to harvest as the tubers become entangled with the roots sticking to them. In the wild varieties, sun chokes mature at the end of the root, while in the cultivated varieties they develop as clumps near the main rhizome. Similar to the sunflower, the sun-choke plant can grow from three to twelve feet in height. The plant’s flowers are one and a half to three inches in diameter with large leaves. Sun-choke plants tend to behave like weeds by multiplying and taking over the area in which they are grown.

History of Jerusalem artichokes

Artichoke is a native of North America and grew in the wild along the east coast from Georgia to Nova Scotia. Samuel de Champlain, an explorer, first discovered the vegetable growing in the garden of an indigenous American Indian in Massachusetts in 1605. He thought they tasted like artichokes, and took them back to France. The natives called them sun roots and introduced them to the pilgrims when they landed on the continent. The perennial tuber was incorporated into the pilgrim’s diet as a staple food. The Italians were introduced to the veggie prior to 1632, and got to know it as ‘girasole.’

The rise to popularity of the vegetable was quick in the 1600, perhaps due to the name of artichoke associated with it. At this time the potato was not that well accepted. As the potato rose in fame, Jerusalem artichoke fell from grace. The public somehow got the idea that it was responsible for causing leprosy. Part of the reason for this thought was its awkward shape and blotchy brown skin that gave the appearance of the distorted fingers of people suffering from leprosy.

It wasn’t until 1772 when Europe was hit with famine that Jerusalem artichoke was turned to for sustenance. It was easy and quick to grow and supplied good nourishment. Later in World War II the roots gained more recognition in a number of countries as they could be purchased without ration cards. Lewis and Clark, the famous explorers, used Jerusalem artichokes for sustenance during their expedition when food was difficult to come by.

Health Benefits of Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes provide a number of health benefits due to the nutrients found in them. They are high in potassium, an element necessary for maintenance of overall health. It is beneficial for individuals at risk of elevated blood pressure levels. Consumption of the vegetable on a regular basis can help to maintain healthy blood cholesterol level which is essential for your heart health. Just one cup of the root delivers 25% of the daily iron needs. To get the same amount from red meat you would have to consume three ounces of it!  Iron is a necessary component of the red blood cells, needed to deliver oxygen to all parts of the body. Deficiency of the element results in fatigue and lowered immunity. Sun-chokes are loaded with protein. It has especially high quantities of sulphur containing amino acids taurine, methionine, homocysteine and cysteine. These compounds are necessary for connective tissue flexibility along with detoxification of the body.

Additional benefits include:

  • Low calories make it a good addition to any weight loss program.
  • Aids in standardizing metabolism.
  • Being rich in inulin and dietary fibre makes them good for diabetics.
  • Alleviates constipation.
  • Rids the body of toxins.
  • Provides strength to the immune system.

Nutritional Value Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are highly nutritious tubers. A one cup serving of raw artichoke contains only 110 calories, approximately 26 grams of carbohydrates, three grams of protein, and ten grams of fibre. This translates to 10% of the daily fibre needs, 9% of the carbohydrate needs and 6% of the required amount of protein. Better yet they contain almost no fat, sodium or saturated fat and cholesterol.

Jerusalem artichokes are heavily fortified with vitamins as well.  Just one serving of the veggie provides 28% of the recommended daily allowance of iron, 14% potassium, 9% phosphorous and 6% magnesium. Additionally it supplies 25% of thiamine, 12% niacin, 7% riboflavin and vitamin C and 5% of folate and vitamin B12.

Uses of Jerusalem artichokes

Much of the sun chokes’ nutrients are found immediately below the skin and peeling the tuber means wasting a lot of the nutrients. It is best to scrub the tuber with a vegetable brush. Sun chokes discolour rapidly upon cutting, so make sure to cut them very close to serving time. If it is necessary to prepare them in advance, then cut them and submerge them in water with added lemon juice or a couple to tablespoons of vinegar. This will prevent oxidation and maintain the colour. When cooked in the skin, it turns a dark colour due to the large amounts of iron.

Jerusalem artichokes have no downside, which makes them the ideal addition to many foods or used on their own. They can be sprinkled in sandwiches, salads and as garnish in soups. They can be served with dips, shredded into coleslaw, marinated in lemon juice or rice vinegar. They can be used to make soups.

A few more serving ideas:

  • They can be used in stir fries along with other vegetables in olive oil. To get a crisp texture, fry for only two to four minutes, for softer texture fry a little longer.
  • You can slice the artichokes and drizzle them with a little olive oil, then place them on a cookie sheet to bake at 375 degrees for approximately 25 minutes. Alternatively, you can bake the whole tuber like a potato.
  • To steam the veggie just chop and place it in a streamer, cover and allow to cook for roughly 6 to 8 minutes. They can be enjoyed by seasoning to taste or they can be mashed like potatoes.

By far one of the best ways to enjoy Jerusalem artichokes is to juice them or add them to smoothies. Here are a couple of recipes that are sure to not only quench thirst but leave you invigorated.

Zesty Sun-choke Juice

  • 2 stalks celery
  • ½ cup sun-chokes
  • ½ cucumber
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice

Juice and drink chilled.

Sweet & Spicy Sun-choke Smoothie

  • 1 small apple or (½ of a large one)
  • 1 ½ chopped carrot
  • ½ cup chopped sun-choke
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ inch ginger
  • Fist full of cilantro and parsley

Place all ingredients in a blender and thoroughly blend.

Clinical Trials

High blood pressure is a major precursor to cardiovascular disease. Although the market is full of synthesized drugs, each comes with its own set of side effects, leading to a search for natural remedies for the treatment or prevention of the ailment. Prebiotics from dietary sources is considered a possible acceptable alternative. Prebiotics are food particles that cannot be digested and by sidestepping digestion they reach the large intestine as food for resident good bacteria. Studies show that these prebiotics have the potential to cut down and prevent hypertension.

Sun-chokes are loaded with the compound inulin. This non-digestible fibre has prebiotic characteristics. When fermentation of this compound takes place, the derivatives produced block the growth of cancerous tumour cells in the colon.

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About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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