A species of sunflower, Jerusalem artichoke is native to the central regions of North America. Usually, it is found growing in the wild in the eastern as well as western regions of North America. However, it is still regarded as a species introduced to the continent. In places which have temperate climatic conditions, Jerusalem artichoke is cultivated extensively for its tubers. The tuber of this species is generally used in the form of a root vegetable.
The North Americans cultivated Jerusalem artichokes for the first time. This was much before the European settlers arrived in the New World. Owing to the extensive cultivation of Jerusalem artichoke by the North Americans, the precise native of the species' range is unclear. Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, was the first to find that the natives of Nauset Harbour cultivated some roots whose taste was akin to artichoke. Next year, when Champlain visited the same place, he discovered that the flavour of the roots was akin to chard. He brought this plant to France on his return.
A few years later, a Dutch botanist name Petrus Hondius planted a shrunken tuber of Jerusalem artichoke in his garden located in Temeuzen. The ability of the plant to proliferate surprised him much. In fact, Jerusalem artichoke is very well suited to the climate and soil of Europe and, hence, the plants multiply very fast in such conditions. By the middle of the 1600s, this plant became an extremely common vegetable among the Europeans and Americans. Aside from the vegetable being consumed by humans, livestock were also fed this vegetable. In fact, people in France were particularly fond of this vegetable. During the turn of the nineteenth century, the popularity of this vegetable was highest in France.
The French explorer Samuel de Champlain as well as Marc Lescarbot, the first historian of Acadia, both portrayed the Jerusalem artichoke as a big vegetable like turnip or truffle that were suitable for human consumption. They described the taste of Jerusalem artichoke similar to that of chards, but said this tuber is much more pleasant to eat. In 1629, John Parkinson, an English herbalist as well as botanist, wrote that Jerusalem artichoke was cultivated extensively and was extremely popular in London. This vegetable was also very inexpensive. According to him, Jerusalem artichoke was so cheap that even the most vulgar started look down on it. On the other hand, when the Jerusalem artichoke arrived in London for the first time, the tubers of the plant were considered as "dainties for the Queen".
Both Lewis and Clark consumed the Jerusalem artichoke tubers cooked by a native woman in a place which is now called North Dakota.
Jerusalem artichoke was also known as the "Canadian truffle". Along with rutabagas, people in France associated the Jerusalem artichoke with denials during the Nazi occupation of the country during World War II. During this period, traditional foods became scarce and people were given food rations, which included Jerusalem artichokes too. This made the tuber a regular food in the French diet. When the war ended, the vegetables were returned to their habitual use and were used as animal feed.
Though the tubers are called Jerusalem artichoke, it does not have any relation whatsoever with Jerusalem. This artichoke was never cultivated in Jerusalem. This tuber was named Jerusalem artichoke because a French explorer found its flavor to be akin to an artichoke. Moreover, the taste and flavor of this tuber is starchy, which is similar to that of the potatoes. The color of Jerusalem artichoke’s skin may differ from white and pale brown to red and purple. Generally, a Jerusalem artichoke measures 7.5 cm to 10 cm in length and 3 cm to 5 cm in width.
Jerusalem artichoke is basically a root vegetable having a tough dark skin. Inside this vegetable white and has a starchy taste. The flavor of this vegetable is very similar to that of potatoes. As far as the health of our intestines is concerned, Jerusalem artichokes are considered to be superstars. This root vegetable is loaded with inulin - a form of carbohydrates, a variety of dietary fiber that is non-digestible and has potent prebiotic properties. Inulin encloses fructans, which serves as food for friendly bacteria in our gut. As inulin present in Jerusalem artichoke nourishes the friendly bacteria in the gut, it helps to hold back the growth of all harmful bacteria in the stomach. In addition, Jerusalem artichokes have a crucial part in preventing colon cancer. Findings of several scientific studies have demonstrated that a by-product produced in the fermentation process of inulin, helps to hold back and also block growth of cancerous cells in the colon.
Jerusalem artichoke is a popular root vegetable in many parts of the world as it encloses inulin as carbohydrate, which has a vital role in maintaining the health of our intestines. Apart from inulin, these tubers also enclose several vitamins and essential minerals that offer various health benefits to our body. For instance, Jerusalem artichokes encloses dietary fiber that is essential for smooth movement of bowel. At the same time, it also provides relief to those enduring constipation.
Jerusalem artichoke tubers enclose large quantities of phosphorus, which has a crucial role in maintaining as well as forming teeth. This essential mineral also helps to heal decayed tooth. These tubers also contain sufficient amount of iron, which has a vital role in improving the health of muscles. Deficiency of iron in the body may often result in anemia. When a person suffers from anemia, it means he/she will have feeble muscles.
In addition to phosphorus and iron, Jerusalem artichoke also contains significant quantity of potassium. On the other hand, its sodium content is relatively low, which is good for lowering the blood pressure. Jerusalem artichoke also encloses a number of antioxidant vitamins - such as vitamin A and vitamin C, which play an important role in ensuring our overall health. These vitamins are necessary to track as well as eliminate the harmful free radicals and protect us from the risks of developing various ailments, including cancer.
Jerusalem artichoke also encloses copper, which is vital for our body. The antioxidant property of copper helps to protect the cell membranes from onslaught of the harmful free radicals.
It is worth mentioning here that this root vegetable has the ability to lower blood pressure. Large amounts of inulin, which is an indigestible carbohydrate, evades digestion and enters the lower gut to nourish the good bacteria present there. Findings of studies have shown that feeding the native micro flora and, at the same time, eliminating the harmful bacteria is important for lowering the blood pressure and preventing hypertension.
In addition to the above mentioned nutrients, this root vegetable also contains elevated amounts of potassium. A serving of one cup of Jerusalem artichoke provides the body with 643 mg of potassium - the essential mineral needed by the body for maintaining our overall health. At the same time, potassium is helpful for lowering the risks of heart disease. Increased intake of potassium and lessening sodium intake through your diet is especially useful for people who are vulnerable to high blood pressure.
Consuming Jerusalem artichoke also helps to reduce the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol in the blood stream. In addition, to keeping the levels of triglyceride at normal levels, this root vegetable also influences the manner in which our body metabolizes fats. This action of Jerusalem artichoke is attributed to the elevated levels of probiotics present in it.
Consuming just one cup of this small vegetable provides the body with almost 25 percent of your daily requirement of iron. On the contrary, eating no less than three cups of red meat provides the body with the equivalent amount of iron! Eating Jerusalem artichokes is said to be a wonderful way to enhance your intake of iron, especially because only one cup of this amazing vegetable does not contain any fat and supplies the body with just 109 calories. Iron is an indispensable component of all proteins that are engaged in delivering oxygen to all the cells in our body. Any deficiency of this vital mineral hinders oxygen delivery to the body's cells, thereby resulting in decreased immunity and fatigue.
Jerusalem artichoke contains very high amounts of proteins. This wonderful root vegetable not only contains more proteins compared to other root vegetables, but it especially contains elevated levels of amino acids such as taurine, cysteine, homocysteine and methionine - all these amino acids contain sulfur. These amino acids are necessary for our body to maintain the suppleness of connective tissues. In addition, the above mentioned sulfur-containing amino acids facilitate the liver's detoxifying activity effectively.
Jerusalem artichoke also possesses anti-carcinogenic properties, which is partly attributed to this vegetable's ability to support healthy as well as normal bowel movements. The elevated levels of inulin, a non-digestible carbohydrate, present in Jerusalem artichoke helps to create bulk and, at the same time, enhance the proportion of water in stool. This, in turn, helps to maintain health and normal bowel movements.
Different from most other tubers, but having similarity with several members of the family Asteraceae (which also includes artichoke), Jerusalem artichoke store its carbohydrate in the form of inulin (one should not mistake inulin for insulin) instead of storing it as starch. Therefore, the tubers of Jerusalem artichoke are undoubtedly a vital source of inulin, which is used like a dietary fiber while manufacturing many foods.
Aside from human consumption, Jerusalem artichoke is also used as a feed for animals. However, before feeding this tuber to animals, the tubers must be washed carefully. Though pigs are able to forage, but they can eat the tubers safely directly from the ground. The leaves and stalks of this plant can be harvested and employed as silage (a variety of fodder that is made from crops having green foliage). However, it must be borne in mind that cutting the Jerusalem artichoke plants at the top may significantly reduce the harvesting of the roots.
You can consume Jerusalem artichoke raw and even after cooking. In addition, you can add these tubers to soup or salad. They are very popular among people who prefer raw food diet.
Occasionally, the tuber of Jerusalem artichoke is used by people as a potato substitute. The consistency of potato and these tubers is similar. In their raw form, the texture of both is similar. On the other hand, the tubers are sweeter and have a nuttier flavor compared to potatoes. Raw Jerusalem artichoke tubers can be sliced thinly and used in salads. These tubers contain carbohydrates in inulin form, which makes them soft and mushy when they are boiled. However, the texture of the tubers remains intact when they are steamed. The human digestive system is unable to break down inulin, but specific bacteria present in the colon can metabolize this form of carbohydrate. Consuming cooked Jerusalem artichoke tubers can sometimes result in flatulence and, at times, even cause gastric pain.