Over 200 varieties of sunchokes are currently available. They are used not only as a source of fructose in many commercial products, but also to make alcohol. The sunchoke is currently better known and more popular in Europe than in the United States.
(photo: WikiHow/CC BY-NC-SA)
The sunchoke's botanical name is Helianthus tuberosus. It's the tuber of a variety of perennial flower in the aster family with blooms resembling diminutive sunflowers. The small, gnarled tubers resemble ginger root. Sunchokes are also called Canada or French potatoes, topinambour, and topinambur. Sunchokes were introduced to Europe from the Netherlands. Artichoke comes from the Arabic, al-khurshuf, meaning thistle, a reference to the appearance of the stem and foliage.
Although available year-round, the main season in North America runs from October to April. The best tubers are smooth, clean, unblemished, and firm with a minimum of bumps. Avoid those with wrinkled skins, soft spots, sprouts, or green areas. Sunchokes bruise easily and need to be handled carefully. Store raw sunchokes in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from light. They can be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator by wrapping in paper towels to absorb humidity and putting them in a plastic bag. Depending on their freshness at the store, raw sunchokes can be stored from 1-3 weeks. Cooked sunchokes should be refrigerated and consumed within 2 days. Canning or freezing is not recommended because of discoloration and deterioration of texture.
(photo: Kelly Rossiter/CC BY 2.0)
Versatile sunchokes can be eaten raw or cooked. Before eating or cooking, scrub the tubers thoroughly with a vegetable brush. Peeling can be difficult due to their shape and isn't necessary since the peels are completely edible. If you do want to peel them, slice off the bumpy areas and use a vegetable peeler. If you want to cook them, it's easier to first boil, steam or microwave the tubers whole and unpeeled and then peel. The knobby tubers resemble ginger roots. They have light brown skin which can be tinged with yellow, purple or red depending on the soil in which they were grown. They're 3-4 inches long and 1-2 inches in diameter. Like potatoes, they can be baked, boiled, steamed, fried, and stewed. However, they cook faster than potatoes and can easily turn mushy in a few minutes so watch them closely.
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon celery powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed dry oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Cultivation: The growing requirements for sunchokes are full sun and pH neutral soil. They do best in zones 4a-9b. Like potatoes, plant either the whole tuber or a piece of the tuber that has several eyes. Planting depth is 4-6 inches. Maturity is 110-150 days, depending on the variety and growing conditions. Light frost increases the sweetness of the tubers. Water regularly but do not over-water. They will spread so be sure to give them sufficient room. Dig the tubers in the fall. The plants are attractive to bees, butterflies and birds with bees being the biggest pollinators. This plant provides food for several species of caterpillars and beetles. The nutritious seeds are consumed by songbirds, gamebirds, and small mammals. The stems are sometimes used by muskrats and beavers for dams or dens.
(my sunchoke patch)