Monday, October 27, 2014

Jerusalem Artichoke

Helianthus Tuberosus

I am cooking with Jerusalem artichoke for the first time. One of my family members has high cholesterol and was told he shouldn't eat potatoes. Jerusalem artichoke is a possible substitute, since potatoes form a major part of our diet.

The Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke, nor does it have any connection to Jerusalem. It's actually a variety of sunflower (which makes me wonder about the roots of the sunflowers growing in our yard). Since it has an invasive habit, I planted it in a container. That's probably why I didn't get as large a crop as I expected. The information I found indicated that the tubers could be harvested throughout the season, but each time I dug down around the plant I found (at best) a few rhizomes approximately the thickness of my smallest finger. When I dug it up this morning, all the tubers were directly under the main plant. We got a couple of pounds of small tubers, most of them between an inch and an inch and a half in diameter. Again, I think that was because it was in a small, isolated space and couldn't spread out.

In herbalism, Jerusalem artichokes are used as a supplementary pre-biotic, helping to balance the bacteria levels in the intestines. Instead of traditional starches, they have a starch called inulin (not to be confused with insulin) which doesn't break down readily and is not passed through into the bloodstream. They have very little effect on blood sugar, unlike traditional potatoes, and can be used to partially regulate blood sugar levels in diabetics.

According to hearsay, they can be used in anything that requires potatoes. I found that they slice easily, in perfect thin slices, where potatoes would tend to break or shear. One source said they can be used raw (rather like water chestnuts) in salads. Whether or not they should be peeled is a matter of choice, but their skins are thin and barely visible. The tubers are wrinkled and bubbled, making removal of the skins into more of a chore than I'm willing to take on.

I made hash-browns with them as a test. They have a nutty, sweet taste and a texture similar to potatoes but slightly more crunchy. They also stuck to my teeth like glue and I spent the next half hour prying them loose.

I got ambivalent reactions from family members. The taste would certainly take some getting used to. Not sure yet whether they would be worthwhile as a crop in the future. I'm guessing not, but I'll leave it open for discussion.

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