Updated: Jan 28
The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a root vegetable from the sunflower family. Despite the name, they have no connection to Jerusalem, their name is a bastardisation of the Italian for “sunflower” - girasole - and the name Jerusalem artichoke was given due to this mis-translation. Native to North America, but cultivated all over temperate regions, it can be traced back to Native Americans who first cultivated it before it was then transported to France by French explorer Samuel De Champlain.
Jerusalem artichokes are a persistent crop and grow prolifically almost anywhere. They can grow to a height of 3 metres and produce yellow flowers similar to a sunflower - not surprising seeing as they are from the same family! The tubers resemble ginger root on the outside with colours ranging from gray to purple and pink, and white on the inside. Each tuber can weigh about 75-200 g.
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Jerusalem artichokes are high in inulin, a type of dietary fibre resistant to digestion, and are used as dietary fibre in food manufacturing where they may be added to breads and other baked goods.
Jerusalem artichokes can be eaten raw or cooked and are most commonly consumed raw in salads or cooked in soups. If eaten raw, it is important to consume soon after purchase or harvest as with time higher levels of sugar is formed and its glycaemic index nears that of white potato. When cooked, some, or all, of the fiber content may be destroyed depending on the cooking method - as is the same with almost all high fibre foods. If you want all of the insoluble fibre goodness then it is best to eat them raw.
In our search for the many uses of Jerusalem artichoke we came across an interesting one - coffee! Jerusalem artichoke can be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute and, in this instance, mixed with dandelion root to amplify health benefits (1).
There is also the potential for them to be processed and used as a biofuel. The inulin found in the tubers are easily broken down by fermentation where they can then be converted into ethanol. This, plus the fact that Jerusalem artichokes are a crop which grow prolifically, means that they could be a viable solution to the dwindling stores of fossil fuels (2).
Jerusalem artichoke flowers can grow up to 3m in height!
As previously mentioned, Jerusalem artichokes are high in a soluble fiber called inulin. Inulin is a fructan, a polymer of fructose molecules which cannot be digested in the small intestine. Instead, it passes through the digestive system to the lower intestines where it acts as a prebiotic and feeds the gut bacteria. When gut bacteria feed on inulin they break them down into short chain fatty acids which provide many health benefits such as reduced risk of inflammatory disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes (3). Aside from being broken down into short chain fatty acids, inulin may improve overall health in other ways:
Reduction of hunger promoting hormones
Improved gut bacteria levels
Reduced blood sugar levels
Improved mineral absorption (4)
Thiamin (Vitamin B1) - 13% RDV
Thiamin is responsible for energy metabolism and proper cell fuction. As a water soluble vitamin, a percentage of the vitamin may be lost if the food is cooked in water (if you throw the water away afterwards instead of drinking it or using it in a recipe, that is). Also, heating foods may reduce their thiamin content (5).
Niacin (Vitamin B3) - 7% RDV
Niacin, like other B vitamins, is responsible for energy metabolism and cell function. In addition to this, it plays a role in liver and adrenal gland function. Niacin may also help protect against certain cancers and promote healthier skin (6).
Iron - 19% RDV
Iron is stored in haemoglobin found in red blood cells and carries oxygen around the body. Inadequate levels of iron can lead to a condition called anaemia where one may experience symptoms such as low energy levels and shortness of breath.Though non-haem iron (plant based) is not absorbed as well as haem iron (animal based), vitamin C aids in absorption of iron, especially from non-haem sources which is handy as Jerusalem artichokes contain a good dose of vitamin C as well! (7)
Potassium - 12% RDV
Potassium is an electrolyte which transports electrical signals around the body. Electrolytes are vital for almost every human function - we are giant circuit boards and optimal electrolyte balance is important to our overall health. N.B. when someone begins a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet they may experience a symptom affectionately named “keto/carb flu”. This may be caused by an electrolyte imbalance as the body flushes out fluids following carbohydrate restriction, and some recommend increasing your intake of salt and other electrolytes to redress the imbalance (8) (9).
Nutritional content (per 100g):
Calories - 73Kcal
Total Carbohydrates - 17.4g
Dietary Fiber - 1.6g
Sugars - 9.6g
Total Fat - 0g
Saturated Fat - 0g
Monounsaturated Fat - 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat - 0g
Protein - 2g
Thiamin - 13%
Niacin - 7%
Iron - 19%
Potassium - 12%
Jerusalem artichokes are a great addition to any salad and a fantastic source of prebiotic fibre. We are starting to realise the importance of gut bacteria in human health, so add these to your diet as soon as you can find them! We recommend eating them raw, starting in small amounts and gradually increasing the quantity to test tolerance as eating too much can cause a lot of unwanted bloating and flatulence. If you have children who seem to dislike vegetables then feel, smell, prepare and eat these tubers but call them fartichokes and you may be surprised how much they begin to enjoy them.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John Maitland is the co-founder of 'The Evolved Way.’ A personal trainer with over 10 years’ experience, he has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.
Co-founder of 'The Evolved Way', and experienced personal trainer, Samson practices what he preaches. His own healthy lifestyle, which informs this site, is based on understanding the right way to eat and exercise, not excluding of course going out and enjoying life knowing you can still feel and look good.