In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate a simple, humble vegetable that hasn’t quite made it into mainstream cuisine. You may have seen or heard of sunchokes (sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes). But what you may not know is that these unassuming little tubers offer a wealth of health benefits—and they’re tasty, too.
Sunchokes are the tuberous roots of a type of sunflower native to North America. Originally cultivated by Native Americans as a food source, the tubers are popular in Europe as a vegetable. With a nutty, slightly sweet flavor, sunchokes are delicious eaten raw or lightly cooked in salads, and can also be baked, sautéed, or pureed in soups.
A good source of iron, potassium and thiamin, sunchokes are low in calories and high in fiber. The primary carbohydrate they contain is inulin, which has little effect on blood sugar and is therefore beneficial for diabetes or pre-diabetes.
In my opinion, though, their most valuable attribute is that they are an exceptional prebiotic. The health benefits of probiotics are well publicized, but it’s only recently that the importance of prebiotics has been recognized.
A prebiotic is a type of nondigestible fiber found in specific foods such as sunchokes, artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, chicory root, burdock root, dandelion root, plantain bananas, whole wheat, rye, and barley. Prebiotic foods encourage the growth and activity of beneficial microbes in the intestinal tract, thereby promoting overall good health.
Many things interfere with a healthy intestinal microbiome community, including antibiotics, poor dietary choices (excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates), and emotional stress. Including prebiotic foods regularly in your diet supports beneficial intestinal bacteria, with a corresponding decrease in bacteria known to be pathogenic and putrefactive. A healthy intestinal microbiome community enhances nutrient absorption, improves blood sugar control and insulin normalization, and has anti-bacterial and anti-tumor actions via the production of butyrate in the gut. (Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid synthesized from non-absorbed carbohydrate by colonic microbiota.)
The simplest way to prepare sunchokes is to grate or thinly slice the tubers and add to salads—they have a slight crunch, similar to water chestnuts. Another simple way to prepare sunchokes is to dry roast them at 300-325 degrees for up to four or five hours—the result is a crunchy exterior, with a soft, molten interior.
The following two recipes are still simple, but include a few additional ingredients:
Sunchoke Arugula Salad
- 1 pound sunchokes, scrubbed well
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1 bunch arugula, washed and spun dry
- 2 ounces Parmesan, shaved
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Using a sharp knife, very thinly slice the cleaned sunchokes.
- Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, wine vinegar, and garlic. Add sunchokes and toss to combine.
- Add arugula and half of the Parmesan and toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with remainder of Parmesan and serve.
Roasted Sunchokes With Garlic
- 1 pound sunchokes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Scrub sunchokes with a vegetable brush. Cut tubers into 1-inch bite-sized pieces.
- In a medium-size bowl, toss sunchokes with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
- Arrange sunchokes in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once, until the sunchokes are golden brown.
- Sprinkle with parsley and serve.