Sunchokes might not be on your radar —but for both culinary and health reasons, you may want to check out these tubers! They look a bit like ginger and come in a variety of sizes, shapes and even different colors, depending upon the soil in which they were grown. They are generally smooth, but can be very knobby, as in the heirloom variety. Not exactly the star of the farmers’ market, they are in the shadow of the more colorful fall and winter vegetables. But, here are three reasons you’ll want to bring them home. Skip the squash. It’s not going anywhere!
THREE REASONS TO TRY SUNCHOKES
#1 VERSATILITY IN THE KITCHEN
Sunchokes have a mild sweetness and an earthiness, similar to artichoke hearts. Their texture is crisp and firm when raw and creamy when cooked, similar to a potato.
Their texture makes sunchokes a very versatile culinary option. Eat them raw like parsnips in salads. Or, braise, steam, mash, roast or bake them like a potato. In fact, they are an excellent substitute for or addition to potatoes in many cooked dishes due to their creamy texture.
Be sure to avoid overcooking them, as they will become mushy rather quickly. Season sunchokes with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and walnuts or rosemary. Or, season them like mashed potatoes, with nutmeg and parsley.
#2 CREAMY TEXTURE -WITHOUT THE STARCH
While sunchokes may look, cook and have a texture similar to potatoes, sunchokes have an important distinction for those watching their blood sugar or waistline. Unlike potatoes, sunchokes have no starchy carbohydrates. Rather, they are an excellent source of inulin, a natural storage carbohydrate present in more than 36,000 species of plants, including wheat, onion, bananas, garlic, asparagus, chicory and sunchokes. For these plants, inulin is used as an energy reserve and for regulating cold resistance.
The tuber’s chemical structure, specifically the bonds between molecules of the carbohydrates, can’t be digested by our intestinal enzymes. According to scientific studies, inulin carbohydrates pass through our gastrointestinal tract without being metabolized.
#3 GUT HEALTH
Instead, of being digested, almost all of the ingested inulin enters the colon where it is fermented by the colonic microflora. In fact, in vitro studies have shown that inulin selectively stimulates the growth of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, the healthy ‘good’ bacteria we want to encourage. So, when you eat this prebiotic, inulin is feeding the friendly bacteria in your gut. Win-win!
However, while sunchokes are a gut-healthy vegetable, some individuals may be sensitive to them. To avoid flatulence, some individuals may need to introduce them into their diet in small quantities, as they would with any high-fiber foods. Further, being a member of the FODMAP group, individuals restrictive diets may need to limit or avoid this vegetable completely.
TIPS FOR SELECTING, STORING AND PREPPING SUNCHOKES
- At the market, look for sunchokes which are firm and free of black spots or blemishes. If possible, choose those which are more smooth and less knobby for less scrubbing and prep time.
- Wash the tubers thoroughly in cold water with gentle scrub. The peel is fine to eat. If scrubbed well, peeling may be avoided. But, if desired for appearance purposes, remove the skinwith a vegetable peeler. If cooking whole, they will peel easier after cooking.
- Wrapped in a paper towel and stored inside a refrigerator vegetable drawer, sunchokes will keep for at least one week, possibly up to three.
- Because of their high iron content, sunchokes will turn brown when the flesh is cut open and exposed to air. To prevent this, place cut pieces into a bowl of cold acidulated (lemon) water until cooking, as you would with apples.
- Sunchokes are not good candidates for freezing or canning as they will discolor and the texture will degrade.
Woods, Rebecca. The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.
Page, Karen. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014
Kalyani Nair, K.; Kharb, Suman; Thompkinson, D. K. (18 March 2010). “Inulin Dietary Fiber with Functional and Health Attributes—A Review”. Food Reviews International 26 (2): 189–203. doi:10.1080/87559121003590664.
Tako, E.; R. P. Glahna; R. M. Welcha; X. Leia; K. Yasudaa; D. D. Miller (2008). “Dietary inulin affects the expression of intestinal enterocyte iron transporters, receptors and storage protein and alters the microbiota in the pig intestine”. Br. J. Nutr 99: 472–480. doi:10.1017/s0007114507825128.
Have you tried cooking sunchokes? How did you prepare them?
Please share below!