A Badly Misnamed Vegetable: Jerusalem Artichoke

Have you heard of, seen, or eaten Jerusalem artichokes? These are among the most incorrectly named vegetables and it ranks right up there with “pineapple”, which is neither a pine nor an apple. 

Likewise, Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), sometimes called sunchokes, aren’t native to Jerusalem and don’t come from there. They are native to central North America. They are also not artichokes, they are sunflowers. Artichokes are thistles. 

When people think of sunflowers, they usually think of the species that put out a single, very large flowerhead. More properly called a mammoth sunflower, those plants grow to 10-12 feet in height and the flowerhead is often three feet across, with each flowerhead rendering a lot of large sunflower seeds.

Other species of sunflowers and there are about 70 species, are also native to North America and not all of them have a single flowerhead. Many of them produce many flowers, usually just a couple of inches in diameter. This is true of Jerusalem artichokes, as can be seen in the image.

While other types of sunflowers are primarily grown for the seeds, Jerusalem artichokes are grown for their tuberous root. The tuber is firm and not tremendously different than a potato, though usually smaller. This root is usually washed, peeled, and sliced. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Many people, myself included, feel that this is a great substitute for water chestnuts that are used in some oriental foods. Personally, I prefer Jerusalem artichokes to water chestnuts.

Also like potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes are easy to grow and to harvest. The tubers are planted an inch or two deep and at the end of the growing season, they will usually have multiplied, yielding both small and large tubers. The smaller tubers can be replanted and the larger ones can be harvested and eaten. Harvesting Jerusalem artichokes is actually easier than harvesting potatoes, as the tubers tend not to grow as deeply and can easily be lifted out of the ground using a spading fork (a broad-tined pitchfork).

Even tiny tubers that are left in the ground will usually develop into a new Jerusalem artichoke plant, and it is difficult to remove all the tubers, so once Jerusalem artichokes are grown in a location, it can be a bit of a trick to remove them, should that be desired. 

Although they are native to central North America, Jerusalem artichokes now grow wild in eastern and western North America.

  • Have you seen or tasted Jerusalem artichokes?

    • Yes
    • No
    • Seen, yes, tasted, no
    • I’ve never heard of Jerusalem artichokes
  • Did you know that Jerusalem artichokes were native to North America?

    • Yes
    • No

What do you think?

10 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • The flavor is different than regular artichokes. Jerusalem artichokes have a nutty flavor that isn’t even quite like water chestnuts, though they are a great substitute for water chestnuts. In the past, I’ve also grown globe artichokes, the type that are used to make marinated artichokes, but the two plants don’t look even remotely similar.

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