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Sunchoke

Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke as it is also known is the root of a variety of sunflower. It is a crisp white vegetable that stores the carbohydrate inulin. It is high in potassium, fiber and other nutrients. Sunchoke is great raw, stir-fried or baked. Healthy and versatile, a great addition to the kitchen.

Sunchoke
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What it is

The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a species of sunflower native to the eastern United States that is used as a root vegetable. The American Indians called them sunroots and introduced them to American Pilgrims who used them as a staple food. They were introduced, in the early 1600s to the French who called it topinambour. Now it is commonly called sunchoke.

It is a perennial plant growing to 1.5–3 m tall.  Like other sunflowers, the flowers are yellow; they produced in flower heads 5–10 cm diameter, with 10–20 ray florets, and are thought to smell like milk chocolate. The tubers are uneven in shape, normally 7.5–10 cm long and 3–5 cm thick. It has a crisp texture when raw, and varies in color from pale brown, to white, red or purple.

The sunchoke stores the carbohydrate inulin instead of starch; because of this the root is am important source of fructose. It has a delicate sweet and nutty flavor and a crisp white flesh that resembles water chestnuts. 


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What is in it

The tubers are high in potassium and fiber and are also a source of protein, calcium folic acid and niacin and thiamine. The skins are also high in iron.


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What it is good for

The high level of inulin has a minimal impact on blood sugar and does not raise triglycerides. For this reason it is a great vegetable for managing diabetes and other blood sugar related illnesses.

Sunchoke
• Nourishes the lungs
• Relieves asthmatic conditions
• Treats constipation
• Helps rough skin
• Reduces insulin needs in diabetics


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When you get it

Sunchoke are a fall (autumn) and winter vegetable


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Which to select

Choose firm crisp roots, which are plump and vibrant in color. If they are left too long in the open, they become wrinkled and soft and can develop a bitter taste.

Why Organic
Choose organically grown sunchoke whenever possible. To eat organic means to live cleanly, free of pesticides and toxins. It is a conscious choice. One made in order to survive right along with the planet that sustains us. Organically grown foods do not over-run the landfills with toxic waste from their farming or subject your body to unhealthy toxins. For your health and for the planet, choose to eat organic foods. To understand more about why organic is better please read our “Why Organic?” special feature.


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Where to store

Store in the refrigerator. They will store well for up to 2 weeks, although they are best eaten fresh. The sweetness increases if they are refrigerated for one or two days before eating. This is good to know if you grow your own.


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How to use

As with most vegetables, there are a lot of nutrients in the skins so it is best not to peel them. Scrub the sunchoke clean with a vegetable brush. Once cut they should be used quickly as they will discolor, or put them in water with a little vinegar or lemon juice.

Sunchoke is best eaten raw or lightly cooked. The carbohydrates give the tubers a tendency to become very soft and mushy if boiled.

Raw
• Slice or dice and add to salads as you would water chestnuts
• Serve sunchoke sticks with dips
• Use in coleslaw
• Add to raw soups

Stir Fry chopped sunchoke with other vegetables 

Bake sunchokes with a little olive oil in a moderate to hot oven for 30 to 45 minutes if left whole or 20 to 25 Minutes if they are sliced. Be sure to turn them half way through the cooking time.

Steamed chopped roots for 6 to 8 minutes until soft. Use as a side vegetable or mash like potatoes.


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How much you need

To reach your health goals and become healthy the most important step is to eat a well balanced diet of food from across all the food groups. 

For an average person 
 
Servings per food group:
• Whole Grains (Carbohydrates):  6 – 8 
• Meat and beans (Protein):  1 – 2 
• High quality fats: 1
• Dairy:     2 – 3
• Fruit: 2
• Vegetables: 5
• Water: 6

This list is of recommended daily amount of each food group for an average person 19 to 50 years old with a low level of exercise (30minutes of less a day). If you are older you may need a little less, if you are younger, a little more and if you are very active even more food should be eaten. For more information on serving sizes see our special feature on Sizing Up A Serve.

It is important to ensure that the foods that you eat are of a high quality. The highest quality product is one that is fresh, whole and organic.

Fresh – over time the quality of nutrients degrades with their potency dying off.

Whole – many foods, particularly vegetarian foods carry a lot of their nutrients in their outer skins. So leave bran, germs and skins on the food where possible; always with grains and whenever the fruit of vegetable permits.

Organic – ensure you have the cleanest food by using only foods that are grown without pesticides, or other chemicals, in a natural way as people have in all bar the last 80 years of history. Chemical burdened foods are a modern invention designed to increase output with little regard to the health of the end user.


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Things to watch out for

The inulin is not well digested by some people, leading to the misconception that sunchokes are not edible or an assumption that they cause flatulence and gastric pain. Try it first in small amounts to ensure that you tolerate it well.


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References

The Journal of Nutrition – The American Society for Nutrition, http://jn.nutrition.org, retrieved 05/2009.

Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunchoke, retrieved 05/2009

Prepared by the editors at Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Meir J. Stampfer, M.D., Dr.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Vitamins and Minerals: What you need to know,  Harvard School of Public Health, 2008.

Bratman, Steven, and David Kroll. Natural Health Bible. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1999.

Paul Pitchford. Healing with whole food, North Atlantic Books, 2002.

Goldman L, Ausiello D. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders, 2004.

Norton Greenberger M.D. and Roanne Weisman, 4 Weeks to Healthy Digestion, Harvard School of Public Health. (2008)


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