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What Is a Sunchoke?

A sunchoke (sometimes called a Jerusalem artichoke) is a kind of vegetable. It grows underground, and—contrary to its name—doesn’t grow in Jerusalem. It is, in fact, native to North America.

The sunchoke is a curious vegetable. It has been described as a cross between a sunflower seed, a water chestnut, a potato, and a rutabaga. In reality, its closest vegetable “relative” is the sunflower. It has bright yellow flowers, but it is smaller than a sunflower.

The sunchoke was a staple of the native American Indian diet, long before the first settlers arrived. Interestingly, the settlers were suspicious of the vegetable, and myths that it was ‘dangerous’ circulated. It was a long time before they discovered its unique flavor and texture. Today, it is often used in soups, salads, and salsa, and is sometimes added to marinades or deep-fried. It can also be substituted for any recipe that requires jicama, water chestnuts or almonds.

When you would have considered using jicama, water chestnuts, or almonds, try substituting the tuber

The sunchoke looks nothing like an artichoke, but some people believe that it tastes like one. When one of the early French explorers sent it to Italy to be cultivated by a friend, it was named “girasole articicco” or “sunflower artichoke.” Americans dubbed it the “sunchoke” for short, while others—misunderstanding the term “girasole”—thought it was “Jerusalem.” Hence, the term “Jerusalem artichoke.”

The sunchoke grows easily in the North American climate, and many people tend to think they are weeds. It is best harvested for eating right before the plant blooms. Its white bulbs are rich in starch, which the plant stores during winter. The sunchoke also contains inulin, which is processed by the body into fructose instead of glucose. It is thus an excellent food for diabetics.

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