Jerusalem artichoke, also called the sunroot or sunchoke,
is a flowering plant native to North
America, grown for its tuber, which is used as a root
Jerusalem artichoke has absolutely nothing to do with Jerusalem, and little to do
with true artichokes. The first part of its name is due to the process of folk
etymology. When it was first discovered, it was called Girasole, which
is the Italian word for sunflower (it refers to the
way in which the flowers turn towards the sun). The Jerusalem artichoke is a type
of the sunflower, in the same genus as the garden sunflower Helianthus annuus.
Later people thought that Girasole sounded like Jerusalem, so they called
it that. In recent years, many people have taken to calling it sunchoke
or sunroot to avoid this confusion.
artichoke tops and flowers
second part of its common name comes from its taste. The tuber, which is the
only part used, tastes like an artichoke.
tubers are gnarly and uneven, vaguely resembling ginger root, with a crisp
texture when raw. 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 that reason,
they are an important source of fructose for industry.
vegetables are sold in the produce departments of supermarkets. The freshest roots
are plumpish and vibrant in appearance. If left too long in the open, they become
wrinkled and soft and can develop a bitter taste.
artichokes were cultivated by the Native Americans (who
called them "sun roots") long before the arrival of the Europeans. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain
found them being grown at Cape Cod in 1605.
artichokes are easy to grow. In fact the problem for many people is to not
grow them once they have been planted. For this reason, it is tempting to just
leave them in place year after year and dig them as needed. But the quality of
the tubers degrades with this treatment. Keeping the soil fertile is important.
Every small piece of tuber will grow if left in the ground and they can become
a persistent weed.