One of my best harvests this year was something I chucked in the ground last year and forgot about – sunchokes!
Sunchokes, also called Jerusalem artichokes or ground apples, are the underground tubers of a native perennial plant in the sunflower family. They look like ginger and are crispy like a water chestnut when eaten raw. When cooked, they get mushy (with a consistency kind of like potatoes) and taste like artichoke hearts. Sounds delish, right? Well…
Sunchokes contain a type of carbohydrate called inulin, which has its pros and cons. Inulin contributes to the sunchoke’s sweet, nutty flavor. It also makes sunchokes low in carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, which is helpful for people who need to control their blood sugar levels. They are often touted as a great potato substitute for diabetics.
Some people, though, have a hard time digesting inulin and it can cause them to become uncomfortably gassy. This is probably why this nutritious and prolific vegetable isn’t more popular. But don’t let that stop you from trying it!
First, inulin tolerance (and gas tolerance, for that matter) varies from person to person, as does the concentration of inulin in sunchokes. I myself have never had an issue with the dread “fartichoke.” Second, you can build up your tolerance to inulin. Just take it slow at first and eat sunchokes in moderation until you get used to them. Finally, pickling sunchokes or boiling them in lemon juice for 15 minutes prior to cooking them will neutralize inulin’s side effects so you can eat all you want!
Besides, sunchokes are easy to grow, beautiful, productive, and require no preservation whatsoever (they can stay in the ground all winter to be harvested as needed).
Here are my sunchokes in full bloom this summer.
When the plants start to die off, it’s time to harvest. This usually happens after the first few frosts of the season. Frost makes sunchokes sweeter! To replant next year’s crop, just leave a few tubers in the ground.
Sunchokes multiply like crazy and can spread, so think carefully about where you plant them. Look at how many sunchokes are on one plant. I planted ONE sunchoke here last year!
We harvested 20 pounds of sunchokes this year (plus enough seed tubers to replant our crop and share with others).
You don’t need to peel sunchokes (they are very thin-skinned), but you do need to scrub them to get the soil out of all their nooks and crannies.
What a beautiful vegetable!