Bush Craft & Wilderness Survival Articles, Gear Reviews & Videos
by George Hedgepeth
This tall, yellow flowered relative of the sunflower is called Helianthus tuberosus in Latin, and is a common road-side plant in west Michigan. It was raised by Native Americans along with corn, squash, and beans as a reliable crop, and can still be found in grocery stores today, often called sun chokes. It is a tasty, versatile, and interesting addition to our fall menu.
Even though it is a local, native vegetable, it seems like it is more appreciated by Europeans than by Americans. It was named 'best soup vegetable' in the 2002 Nice festival for the heritage of French cuisine, which seems to me to be fairly high praise from a nation that takes it food seriously. Also, it is made into an alcoholic beverage named Topinambour in Germany, and is eaten raw in the Peidmont of Italy with a spiced anchovy spread. Here in Michigan, we normally drive by them on dirt roads.
They are a good food plant, very productive and easy to grow, but they offer a few challenges. Challenge number one is to NOT THINK OF THEM AS POTATOES!!! They are a bland starchy tuber like a ‘tater, but they are different. They have a sweeter, nuttier taste. They resemble a jicama in flavor and texture as much as anything. Also, they are crisper and better raw, but if eaten boiled are a bit soggy. They are at their best raw, roasted, stir fried, pickled, or cooked in a stew or pot roast. Mashed, they are a bit of a mushy flop.
Challenge number two is a bit more awkward. They can cause prodigious gas if eaten in large quantities by some people. Let me be very clear here- not everyone gets this complication, but those who do will know it with certainty. If this is an issue, be sure to enjoy them in the company of small boys of any age. Roughly one third of European and African descended people have a bit of trouble with this tuber, but Asians are much less likely to have an issue (about 10%). When I cooked Jerusalem Artichokes for a group of folks last fall as part of a wild foods supper, no one had a notable reaction at all.
This gas issue is because Jerusalem Artichokes do not contain the starch things like potatoes and wheat flour. The carbohydrate in this tuber is Inulin, which is less digestible in humans. There is a good side to this in that it does not elevate blood sugar levels, and that is beneficial to diabetics. Jerusalem Artichokes also contains 650 mg of potassium per cup, as compared to 422 mg in a banana. They are a good vegetable source of iron, niacin, thiamine, fiber, copper and phosphorus as well, comparing favorably to most plant sources.
They are also a very high quality pro-biotic. The inulin is not broke down in the stomach, and is available to feed the little critters we need in our intestinal tract. In fact, there is more benefit to the intestinal flora from inulin than from lactic acid based foods like yogurt or fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchee. Leeks and garlic are also high in this important carbohydrate.
The most important fact about this wonderful plant is that it is good, tasty, free food. It is versatile and healthy too. Most people enjoy their flavor from the very start, raw or cooked. Take advantage of them and expand your food horizons!
Here is a cool website and a recipe for 'chokes I found while doing some research for this article…
Do you have your own tip to share?
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Briar Patch Outdoors
219 Holmes Street
Durand MI 48429
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