Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are a staple in our home over the winter months from June until August. We love the nutty, crunchy, sweet flavour and particularly love them roasted with rosemary and garlic.
Jerusalem artichokes do not come from Jerusalem nor are they artichokes. They are a species of sunflower native to central North America, where they have been an important food source for thousands of years. They are also called sunroot, sunchoke, topinambur or earth apple.
The tuber is rich in the carbohydrate inulin (8-13%) and is a supreme food for your microbiome. It contains very little starch, no oil and 2% protein. Because it excites your gut microbes and they have a great time digesting the inulin, the tuber is often called “fartichoke”.
It has been reported as a great food for people with diabetes, since the inulin is not assimilated in the intestine, it doesn’t cause a glycemic spike as potatoes would.
Jerusalem artichokes are very beautiful. They are like a very tall sunflower with multiple flower heads per plant. They flower over a long period and the bees love them. It is easy to grow them in your home garden.
Growing Jerusalem Artichokes
In the very first year, you will have to buy some tubers to get you started, in subsequent years you can simply plant tubers from your own seed stock. We sell them every winter. Check the availability here.
Choose a sunny spot that has aerated, free draining soil. They don’t like the soil waterlogged and they do not like it dry. Add a generous amount of compost. They love our homemade compost. If you do not have good quality compost add what you have and also add some well rotted manure like sheep manure.
We plant the tubers at the end of August on Banks Peninsula. They generally come up once the soil has warmed up to about 12ºC. Space them 40cm apart in a diamond pattern. Plant the tubers just below soil level and add a generous amount of organic mulch. Twigs, autumn leaves, straw, hay, grass clippings, some seaweed are all good choices. Here are more ideas for mulches in your garden.
In good conditions they are heavy yielding and produce a generous cluster per plant. Reserve the best for replanting (store in damp sawdust in a cold spot) and eat the rest. You will get about 8-10 times as much as you planted, so do not plant too many.
When the above plant material has died back at the end of autumn/early winter, they are ready to dig. Dig only as much as you need for a week and leave the rest. They get soft quite quickly. If your garden gets waterlogged over winter, then dig them all up and store them in damp sawdust in a very cold area.
At the end of August dig the remainder if you haven’t done so already and prepare the bed again for planting by adding compost and well rotted manure. Plant the tubers and add a generous amount of organic mulch. Twigs, autumn leaves, straw, hay, grass clippings, some seaweed are all good choices. Here are more ideas for mulches in your garden.
Preparing Jerusalem Artichokes
The tubers can be used in a variety of ways. We love them roasted, they can also be sautéed, dipped in batter and fried, or puréed into a delicious, creamy soup.
This is what Jamie Oliver has to say about them: “Jerusalem artichokes are sweet and almost garlicky and mushroomy and gorgeous. You can scrub and roast them whole like mini jacket potatoes and split them open, drizzled with a little chilli oil. You can even use them in a salad with smoky bacon. A Jerusalem artichoke’s best friends are sage, thyme, butter, bacon, bay, cream, breadcrumbs, cheese and anything smoked.“
Here his recipe for Sautéed Jerusalem artichokes with garlic and bay leaves.
Recipe: Oven Roasted Sunchokes
Scrub the Jerusalem artichokes tubers and remove any dirt. We generally do not peel them, but that’s up to you. Leave small ones whole and cut big ones in half or quarter them. Add them to a roasting dish.
Add a few whole or chopped cloves of garlic and sprinkle with some rosemary. Season with salt and pepper and add a generous drizzle of olive oil or dollops of coconut oil. Put them in the oven at 180 ºC. Roast them for about 45 minutes until the outside is crunchy and the inside soft and tender.
As a side dish it is beautiful with some smokey fish, salmon fillets, lamb roast or as a simple snack with some baguette and a glass of red wine.