Jerusalem Artichokes: Selection and Storage

Sunchokes
Gunnar Magnusson/Flickr

The Jerusalem artichoke, also known as a sunchoke, sunroot, and Earth apple, is the thickened underground part of a stem (a tuber) of a breed of sunflowers. A tuber is plant's storage organ which holds the plant's nutrients. For example, potatoes are among the most well known of the edible tubers.

A Brief Description

The Jerusalem artichoke shouldn't be overlooked when it comes to cooking with root vegetables.

The knobby sunchoke tubers look similar to ginger roots, with light brown skin which may be tinged with yellow, red, or purple depending on the soil they are grown in. They are about three to four inches long and one to two inches in diameter. Although available year-round, the prime season is from October to April, and they're best dug after a light frost. Jerusalem artichokes are native to North America and found most commonly on the east coast. While they fell out of popularity in the early 1900's, their popularity is beginning to rise again. 

How to Choose a Sunchoke 

When it comes to picking the best sunchokes, you want to look for smooth, clean, unblemished, and firm tubers with minimum bumps. Farmers are attempting to breed out the bumps in newer varieties, so you will find some are less knobby than others. Avoid those with wrinkled skins, soft spots, and blotched green areas or sprouts.

Jerusalem artichokes may be eaten raw or cooked. Before eating or cooking, scrub the tubers thoroughly with a vegetable brush. Peeling can be difficult due to the protuberances, and is not necessary because the peels are perfectly edible. However, if you must peel them, slice off the smaller bumpy areas and remove skin with a vegetable peeler.

If you will be eating them cooked, you will find it easier to boil, steam or microwave them whole and unpeeled first, and then peeling afterward, as necessary.

How to Store Jerusalem Artichokes

It's important to handle sunchokes with care as they bruise easily. Raw sunchokes should be stored in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area away from light. They may also be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, wrapped in paper towels to absorb humidity, and sealed in a plastic bag.

Depending on how long they have been sitting at the market, raw sunchokes can be stored for one to three weeks. Cooked sunchokes should be refrigerated and consumed within two days. Canning and freezing are not recommended due to discoloration and deterioration of texture

Health Benefits of Sunchokes

Unlike their tuber cousin, the potato, sunchokes have no starch. They are also about two percent protein. Sunchokes contain inulin which is a type of carb that converts into fructose when the tuber is cut from the plant. This makes it a good food for people with diabetes or for those who are pre-diabetic, as the fructose is said to be easily tolerated by diabetics. It also gives the root vegetable a sweet flavor to enjoy.

Sunchokes are also a great source of iron, potassium, and thiamin. They can help lower blood pressure, decrease blood cholesterol, and act as a prebiotic which is good for the intestinal tract.