This past Saturday at the teaching gardens we we harvested sunchokes. #Helianthustuberosus, members of the Asteraceae also called Jerusalem artichoke, sunroom, wild sunflower, topinambur, or earth apple, this plant is a species of sunflower native to central North America where Native Americans cultivated it as a root crop before the Europeans arrived.
Sunchokes are super easy to grow in Central Texas. We bought a handful of the smallest organic sunchokes in the produce section at Central Market and planted them in four inch pots until they sprouted. Planted in April after last frost, this plant needs 120 to 150 days to harvest. They tend to get sweeter after first frost. Tubers can remain in the ground and go dormant over winter and can handle temperatures as low as −22 °F. They also spread so keep this in mind when you choosing a spot in your garden.
We planted them in our milpa with the corn because they make a good companion about the same height so they don't shade each other out. They can also grow in full sun to partial shade. They also like alkaline soil and once established can handle drought. Pruning also helps with growing larger tubers.
The tubers are used for cooking and baking in the same ways as potatoes: but unlike the potato they can also be eaten raw. You can also roast, sauté, or pickle sunchokes. You can even combine sunchokes with sweet potatoes to make a delicious soup. They have a similar consistency, and in their raw form have a similar texture, but a sweeter, nuttier flavor. When eaten raw, sunchokes have a texture similar to water chestnuts that goes well in salads. Sunchokes are high in a sweet dietary fiber called inulin that acts as a prebiotic, promoting beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. Their inulin form of carbohydrates give the tubers a tendency to become soft and mushy if boiled, but they retain their texture better when steamed.
Sunchokes have 650 mg potassium per 1 cup (150 g) serving. They are also high in iron, and contain 10–12% of the USRDA of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus, and copper.
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