Revival of Interest in the Jerusalem Artichoke
Go back more than a decade in time and picture the scene . . . James Beard Award-winning chef Bradford Thompson had been at a Culinary Vegetable Institute event and, on the morning after the event, he was making breakfast with the leftovers.
Now, farmers love hearty breakfasts, but we weren’t too sure about this one. After all, Chef Thompson had boiled Jerusalem artichokes! Everyone knew that was just a weed, right?
Well, not Chef Thompson. He transformed them into home fries, sizzling them in a pan, and convinced us to at least take a bite. So, we did—and our lives have never been the same. These home fries were creamy and sweet, with a delectable hint of vanilla.
The texture? Crispy! Crunchy!! Addictive!!!
These were at least as good, or even better, than home fries would be using potatoes.
Going Even Further Back in Time
This tuber, a member of the sunflower family, is native to the central and eastern portions of North America and, when Sir Walter Raleigh arrived in today’s Virginia in 1585, he found Native Americans cultivating them. In the early 1600s, French explorer Samuel de Champlain transported them to Europe, where it was called the Canada potato or French potato.
When that happened, according to Elizabeth Schneider, author of Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide, it “became part of the French larder” and was “an overnight success.”
This crop was then cultivated in Europe until potatoes became more desired, and then its usage went down. In the United States, they eventually became known as something to remove from your fields, not something to cherish.
More About the Name
Since this crop is not from Jerusalem, and it isn’t an artichoke, how on earth did it get its name? The second half of the name may be easier to explain than the first. This tuber has a flavor that’s similar to artichoke hearts and, when de Champlain sent them to Europe, he noted this similarity.
As far as the Jerusalem part of the name, here are some explanations to consider. First, remember that this plant is from the sunflower family with yellow flowers above its edible root and tuber—and the Italian word for “sunflower” is “girasole.” (The Spanish word is virtually identical: “girasol.”) It’s possible that these words evolved over the decades into what it is used to identify this tuber today.
Jerusalem artichokes were in fact popular in Italy four centuries ago. Elizabeth Schneider points out that it was an Italian custom in the 17th century to present newly discovered vegetables to the Pope, who then spread the news to his favorite people. The Pope did share the news with Cardinal Farnese, who then began growing them in his gardens in 1617. Schneider isn’t convinced, though, that the word “Jerusalem” in connection with this tuber came from “girasole,” noting that some experts believe this Italian word wasn’t even in existence until the 19th century.
She also shares that a culinary reporter, Joan Nathan, said that an “ancient field of Jerusalem artichokes” actually exists in the old city of Jerusalem. But, having said that, Schneider conceded that there isn’t any known connection between the tuber’s name and this city.
Here’s another possibility to consider. Puritans who came to what is now the United States called their new home “New Jerusalem.” It’s possible that, since this tuber had previously been unknown to them, they used that name when referring to the Jerusalem artichoke.
Yet another explanation is that, because this plant was initially sent to the Ter Neusen area of the Netherlands when first introduced to Europe, that word became associated with the plant. Then, the term may have gotten garbled over time.
Scientifically, the Jerusalem artichoke plant is called Helianthus tuberosus. Other names for it include sunroot and sunchoke, as well as lambchoke (it pairs especially well with lamb), earth apples and the Canadian truffle.
Jerusalem Artichoke Nutrition Information
This plan is an excellent source of potassium, as well as being a good iron source. Raw Jerusalem artichoke provides protein, carbohydrates and fiber, without any significant amounts of fat.
This tuber’s fiber is a special kind: inulin. It’s a soluble fiber that acts to balance blood sugar levels, converting to fructose instead of glucose when stored for any length of time, which can be good news for people with diabetes.
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by Oxford Academic, “Fructose does not acutely raise blood glucose. As such, fructose has a lower glycemic index than do starch-based foods, and it has been used as an energy source in diabetes patients because it may aid glycemic control.”
The National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, published a study using diabetic rats that showed how this plant improves insulin secretion and sensitivity. This is of particular interest to researchers and medical professionals interested in helping people with diabetes.
This tuber also feeds the good gut bacteria in our bodies. These bacteria helps us to maintain digestive and immune health. Referring again to an animal-based study by the National Institutes of Health, ” Findings suggest that feeding with probiotics and Jerusalem artichoke significantly improves the microbial contents, defence and regeneration processes in the intestine of pigs.”
Again, We Admit Our Past Mistake
The Jerusalem artichoke has been called a thug, a bully, an invasive weed (people trying to be kind would call it “vigorous”). For years, we saw them as nothing more than a nuisance, certain that chefs would reject them.
We were wrong.
Clearly, studies are showing nutritional benefits of this plant. Then there is its amazing flavor, which has been described as “slightly nutty and savory—like a cross between an artichoke heart and the best potato you've ever had.”
Chefs love this creamy tuber for its versatility, too, celebrating them in savory and sweet recipes alike. From ice cream and dessert garnishes that are candied and dehydrated to velvety purees and savory tarts combined with wild mushrooms and tart green apples, the Jerusalem artichoke is at home in countless dishes. It pairs so well with heady game flavors as well as delicate poultry and fish dishes. It's wonderful in soups and makes a delicate broth that is delicious on its own or as a foundation for sauces.
In parts of Europe, including Germany, the Jerusalem artichoke is also used as the basis for brandy as well as other cordials.
We’re grateful for the savvy people who kept the knowledge about the beauty of this marvelous root and tuber alive. As just one example, Jerusalem artichoke recipes were published in a highly respected and well-used book in England—in 1861, no less, when this tuber had largely been ignored in Europe. Here’s more!
Historic and Contemporary Recipes
Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management highlighted Jerusalem artichokes in her book. One of her soups used these ingredients:
2 pints of white second stock or water
1 pint of milk
2 lb. of Jerusalem artichokes
1 strip of celery
1 oz. of butter
pepper and salt
Wash the artichokes, put a tablespoonful of vinegar into a basin of water and keep the artichokes in it as much as possible while paring them, to preserve their whiteness. Cut the onions, celery, and artichokes into slices, make the butter hot in a stewpan, fry the vegetables for 10 or 15 minutes without browning; then pour in the stock and boil until tender. Rub through a fine sieve, return to the saucepan, add the milk and seasoning, bring to the boil, and serve. Note: When a thicker soup is desired a dessert spoonful of corn flour or flour should be blended with a little milk or stock and added to the soup a few minutes before serving.
This wasn’t the only Jerusalem artichoke recipe included in her book. Mrs. Beeton also recommended parboiling these tubers before dipping them in batter and frying them—serving them with fried parsley. Another recipe involved boiling them and serving them with a white or butter sauce.
Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide also shares multiple recipes, including:
Salad of Jerusalem Artichokes in Mustard Dressing
Grated Jerusalem Artichoke Pancakes
Gratin of Jerusalem Artichokes
Pickled Jerusalem Artichokes
This is just a sampling of Schneider’s recipes using this unique tuber.
Now, here’s a comment from Farmer Lee Jones: As with any recipe, the quality of the ingredients used matters.
Jerusalem Artichokes from The Chef’s Garden
The Clearwater Jerusalem artichoke root and tuber offer up a sweet and nutty flavor with a potato-like texture. These delicious artichokes have a tan skin over beautiful creamy-white flesh. Meanwhile, the garnet Jerusalem artichoke plant provides a marvelously sweet and nutty flavor to creative dishes. Creamy-white flesh, covered with a rose-colored skin, offers up a potato-like texture, with both the root and tuber deliciously edible.
You can also choose to benefit from the best of the day’s Jerusalem artichoke harvest.
As with all of our crops, we use regenerative farming techniques to grow our produce in healthy soil. In short, soil is its own ecosystem and, when it’s healthy, it’s more vibrant and alive, which provides the foundation for the health of the crops we grow, the health of the crops that people consume—including our Jerusalem artichoke varieties.
We hope this blog post offers a good overview of this tuber’s past and present—and we invite you to be part of its creative, nutritious and delicious future! We also hope you consider ordering your Jerusalem artichokes and other farm-fresh vegetables, herbs, microgreens and edible flowers from us. Here are just three reasons why it makes good sense to do so.
The Chef and Farmer Concept®: We are genuinely proud of the deep and authentic relationships we have developed with the chefs we have worked with over the years. We are relentlessly devoted to delivering to a chef exactly what they require. We are here to serve as your personal farmer and will grow for you virtually anything that your creativity inspires. Innovation is a guiding principle at the farm and we are continuously developing new product sizes, colors, textures and flavors for you to taste that we hope will galvanize your imagination, spark a fresh idea and keep your guests marveling at the dishes you serve them in your restaurant. We are also always on the lookout for heirloom vegetables sourced the world over that are unique, extraordinary and have an enticing story to tell. Read more about our Chef and Farmer commitment.
Delivering Direct from the Farm: On a daily basis, we hand-harvest, pick-to-order and ship product to you overnight to assure that you receive the freshest, most vibrant and flavorful produce available. This is our efficiently shipped Earth to Table® promise that ensures ultimate freshness, incredible flavor and prolonged shelf-life, resulting in less waste for your business. We encourage you to compare our direct-from-the-farm products to those with a local supplier who is potentially fulfilling your order with products sourced elsewhere and stored for days in a warehouse before they are delivered to your door. We are confident that you will find our fresh vegetables, microgreens, herbs and edible flowers to be the freshest and most flavorful anywhere.
Farm Food Safety: We take great pride in the cutting-edge food safety program we have developed that diligently tracks our products from seed to shipping, ensuring that when products from The Chef’s Garden arrive in your kitchen, you can be confident in knowing where it was grown and that it was cleaned, packed and shipped following a rigid system of the highest safety standards. We continually receive superior ratings in Food Quality and Safety from AVENDRA, Primus Labs and several other independent certifiers and are happy to share with you more about our program or learn more about our Farm Food Safety program here.
If you’re new to The Chef’s Garden (welcome!), here is where you can contact us to allow us to become your personal farmer. Thank you!