The sunchoke, often called the Jerusalem artichoke, is a tuber from a plant that is related to the sunflower. It is native to America, and has nothing to do with either Jerusalem or artichokes. The tubers are gnarly and uneven, vaguely resembling ginger root. The white flesh is nutty, sweet, and crunchy like chestnuts when raw. Baked in their skins, they become more like potatoes with a mild taste of artichoke hearts.
The sunchoke is widely grown in gardens in Texas and is harvested in the fall for highest quality. Widely available in supermarkets, its peak period is September through January, but often continues through the early spring.
Select firm sunchokes that are firm and free from mold and wrinkles. If left too long in the open, they become wrinkled and soft and can develop a bitter taste. Sunchokes vary in color from dark brown to light brown, similar to ginger.
These tubers need be refrigerated, unwashed, in a plastic bag for up to 1 week for successful storage.
Unlike most tubers, the tubers store the carbohydrate inulin (not to be confused with insulin) instead of starch. For that reason, they are an important source of fructose for industry.
Sunchokes were cultivated by the Native Americans (who called them "sun roots") long before the arrival of the Europeans. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain found them being grown at Cape Cod in 1605.
Sunchokes are easy to grow. In fact the problem for many people is to not grow them once they have been planted. For this reason, it is tempting to just leave them in place year after year and dig them as needed. But the quality of the tubers degrades with this treatment. Keeping the soil fertile is important. Every small piece of tuber will grow if left in the ground and they can become a persistent weed.