Despite what its name might suggest, a Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke that originated from the Middle Eastern city of Jerusalem. Instead, a Jerusalem artichoke is a species of sunflower that grows wildly in North America and is cultivated for its underground tuber, which is a root vegetable.
Origin of the Crop
The tuber was historically cultivated by various indigenous peoples in North America prior to the arrival of European settlers. French explorer Samuel de Champlain is credited with introducing the plant in Europe, which was well-suited to Europe's climate, and soon spread throughout the region. Today, Jerusalem artichokes are popular in Europe, particularly in France, and are used to make vegetable soups.
Origin of the Name
The plant was initially known in the United States as "girasol," which is an Italian word for "sunflower" due to its place in the sunflower family. The term "artichoke" was later added due to the similarity in taste. The name "Jerusalem artichoke" is likely an English corruption of Girasole articiocco, meaning "sunflower artichoke." The plant is also sometimes referred to by other names, including "earth apple", "sunroof", and "sunchoke." Produce distributor Frieda Caplan is credited with creating the name "sunchoke" during the 1960s.
Jerusalem artichokes are generally in season between fall and early spring. The root vegetable resembles a potato, is firm, and is usually golden, tan, or cream in color, although some varieties are also known to have a reddish color. Jerusalem artichokes have no oil, little starch, and are sweet in taste.
Aside from eating as a type of starchy vegetable in soups and salads, Jerusalem artichokes also have commercial uses in alcohol production in parts of Europe. They are also used in beer and wine production in France. In Germany, the tubers are used in the production of a spirit known as Rossler. Jerusalem artichoke brandy is also popular in Germany, which has a fruity smell and a nutty-sweet flavor. The drink also has a pleasing, earthy note. Fuel grade alcohols, such as butanol and ethanol, are also produced from Jerusalem artichokes.