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Ingredient focus – Jerusalem artichoke

Ingredient focus: Jerusalem artichoke

by Sally Abé 01 December 2015

A tasty (and healthier) alternative to potato, Sally Abé tells us why and how we should all be eating Jerusalem artichokes over the winter months.

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Neither from Jerusalem or an actual artichoke, this strange, knobbly vegetable is in fact the tuber of the sunflower Helianthus tuberosus. Originating from America, Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated in Europe in the early 1600s. High in iron and potassium, they’re a very healthy vegetable and good for diabetics due to their low glycemic index and low starch levels, making them a lower calorie alternative to potato. The only downside is the high levels of inulin Jerusalem artichokes contain, which the body's digestive enzymes cannot break down. This job gets left to bacteria in the gut, turning it into CO2. This can result in excess gas in some people; a little embarrassing at a dinner party!

Jerusalem artichokes are in season throughout the winter months in the UK, and can be found either as topinambour, which have a reddish purple skin with lots of knobbly bits, or as helianthus, which are a pale beige and normally straighter and therefore easier to peel. When peeling prior to cooking it is advisable to keep the Jerusalem artichokes in acidulated water to prevent them from discolouring. It is not, however, mandatory to peel them; just make sure you give them a good scrub first.


Flavour profile

The aroma profile is dominated by herbal notes, piney and woody, similar to those found in juniper berry and also bergamot, hazelnut, lemongrass and chanterelle. The spicy aromas are that of balsamic and wood with links to spices such as star anise, cumin and eucalyptus. There are also a small amount of green (grassy) aromas which have links to tomato, cucumber and crab.

As they are high in fructose, Jerusalem artichokes are quite sweet to the taste, much more than that of potato and with long, slow cooking this sweetness is released even further when it begins to caramelize. Jerusalem artichokes have a nutty, earthy flavour and taste not too dissimilar to globe artichokes and salsify.

When eaten raw, Jerusalem artichokes have a crisp, clean flavour and a texture similar to that of water chestnuts.

Food matches

Jerusalem artichokes are best friends with herbs and spices: rosemary, bay, parsley and pepper, cardamom and nutmeg are the best flavours to add to soups, salads and risottos. They also go hand in hand with citrus, especially the peel; try grating some onto baked Jerusalem artichokes.

Jerusalem artichokes pair well with red meats such as beef and lamb, but also stand up to much stronger game birds such as grouse and woodcock. Try doing different preparations on the same dish; puree, chips and roasted artichokes served together make for an interesting main course. Stephen Crane makes a simple yet delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup,while Matthew Tomkinson gratins his artichokes and serves them with Dexter beef.

The earthiness of Jerusalem artichokes means they love to be adorned with slices of fresh truffle, which while expensive is well worth it. The seasons just so happen to coincide nicely together too. Try Peter Coucquyt's Turbot with Celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke and truffle.

Did you know?

There is ongoing research into growing Jerusalem artichokes for ethanol production, which can be used as a sustainable biofuel.

Jerusalem artichokes have been used for years to make brandy in France.

The name ‘Jerusalem’ comes from the Italian ‘girasole’, which means sunflower.

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Ingredient focus: Jerusalem artichoke


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