Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! We’re seeing some of the beautiful yellow flowers blooming in the gardens, suggesting what bounty hides beneath the earth’s surface – Jerusalem artichoke tubers!
Jerusalem artichokes – also known as sunchokes, sunroots and earth apples – belong to the sunflower family and originated in Central and North America, a staple crop for Native American Tribes. These plants were brought to Europe in the 1600s and become widely cultivated in France. Despite being known as a “poor man’s vegetable” during World War II due to its prevalent availability, sunchokes are still quite popular in Europe. The plant grows tall green stalks that can reach up to 10 feet and have yellow flowers resembling small sunflowers. The edible roots of this plant – ranging from gray to brown, purple and pink flesh tones - offer a sweet, nutty potato substitute.
These root veggies are usually in season throughout October and November. After harvesting your tubers, be sure to replant a few for next year’s crop. Otherwise, tubers for planting in early spring should be stored in a cool place without the risk of frost until ready for planting. Planting the tubers as early is possible in the spring is key, otherwise you risk a yield of smaller sized tubers.
Sunchokes have a lot to offer, being rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, a unique dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. These tubers offer vitamins A, C and E, along with other flavonoids that help fight free radicals and inflammation in the body. But perhaps the most impressive offering to note is its iron content, offering more than 42% of the recommended daily intake of iron from just a one cup serving. That same serving size also contains 15% of the suggested amount of copper.
The high amount of iron and copper in sunchokes makes them a boon for your hair health. Oftentimes, hair loss can be attributed to low iron levels, but when consumed, the iron is able to transport oxygen to the hair follicles, supporting the health of your hair. Copper is also supporting the thickness of your hair and preventing your hair from graying prematurely. The vitamin C from sunchokes is the third component here, allowing for proper collagen synthesis and thus strengthening of the hair follicles.
Jerusalem artichokes are probably most known for containing prebiotic fiber. The fiber they contain is called inulin, which is helpful in promoting bifidobacteria in the large intestine. This bacteria is vital for the health of your intestine as it fights off the unwanted bacteria that might be hanging out, as well as carcinogenic enzymes. Prebiotics in general are nondigestible, meaning they’re able to survive the digestive process and provide many health benefits while moving through the intestinal tract. For some people, however, inulin can be hard to tolerate and results in extreme bloating and gas.
They also contain soluble and insoluble fibers that contribute to maintaining adequate moisture in our gut, as well as helping us avoid constipation and reducing the risk of colon cancers.
Additionally, the 100 gram serving offers thiamine, or vitamin B1, at 13% of the daily value. Thiamine is vital for many bodily functions, including the function of our muscles, nervous system, metabolizing carbohydrates and producing hydrochloric acid. The last point is especially noteworthy, since hydrochloric acid tends to decrease during the aging process, making sunchokes an important addition to your diet as you age.
Jerusalem artichokes are in the medium range on the glycemic index, at a value of 50. This means that they are digested more slowly and won’t cause blood glucose levels to swing so drastically. This quality of these tubers makes them helpful for maintaining your mood and energy levels, reducing cravings, improving symptoms of diabetes, and avoiding certain health concerns like stroke and heart disease.
The amount of potassium is another remarkable offering of this tuber, even surpassing the amount in bananas. We’ve touted the benefits of potassium before, as it’s significant for cardiovascular health and muscle function.
On top of all of these health benefits, sunchokes have other unique uses as well. These tubers can also be used to make alcohol, or serve as a good coffee substitute when roasted
Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten like other root vegetables – raw like carrots and radishes, or cooked in ways you would prepare potatoes; boiled, roasted, sautéed, mashed, made into French fries, hash browns, used in soups, pureed and used in baking, etc.
Let us know what your favorite sunchoke recipes are!
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- Sunchokes: A Humble Food with Many Health Benefits by Donnie Yance, MH, CN
- Heal with Food - Jerusalem Artichokes: Health Benefits & Nutritional Properties
- Natural Medicinal Herbs - Jerusalem Artichoke Helianthus tuberosus
- Nutrition and You - Jerusalem Artichoke Nutrition Facts
- The Spruce Eats - Jerusalem Artichokes/Sunchokes History by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone