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  • Writer's pictureAnnemarie Bolduc

Sunchoke Forever

Updated: Mar 27

Here's a plant with funny roots, many names, a long history and a never-ending story!

Sunchoke flowers • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021

What's in a name? This plant has an interesting history that is worth reading about. Commonly called the Jerusalem Artichoke, the sunchoke has nothing related to the globe artichoke. It is a species of sunflower, and its roots are edible (unlike the artichoke's flower buds). It is native to North America and is not from Jerusalem. Some will also call it fartichoke, because of the inulin "wind" effect on some people... I much prefer calling this a sunchoke, as it is more appealing and related to the pretty yellow flowers of the tall plant. "Topinambour" is the French term but topinambur is also used in various languages. Tubers were a food source for indigenous peoples and were introduced to French Canadian settlers to survive the winter in the early years of colonisation. I never saw or tasted them when I was Québec as they fell into obscurity with time... before a recent revival celebrating native food. I was curious and found some tubers for planting when I started to grow food but in Australia. Sunchokes are one of the most economical edible roots I know, as one little tuber can produce a heap more of them! From the 3 little tubers I once bought and sown, came many funny stories that I will never be able to get rid of... just like the plant!


Sunchoke tubers harvest • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020

We were living in Batlow back then (at my mother-in-law's farm) but in the process of moving to Tumbarumba, so I planted 2 at the farm and one in my new backyard garden. We were all impressed by the tall plant and how productive these little funny-looking roots had been. I was excited and tried some tasting recipes. I served a very small amount as an entree as it was the first time, and I was not sure what the inulin effect would have on me and my husband... I didn't want to repel or scare him with it, so I did not mention anything about the gut "risks"(silly me)... He really loved the taste of the sunchokes, and I was (and still am) not sure I liked it so much, but I felt fine. In the night, I heard that was a different thing to him... (oops). The following day, before going to work (oops), he was a little worried there was something wrong with his guts. Then I told him it was just the "fartichokes"(oops)... His mum had a massive laugh about the story and also gave it a go, as there were so many now to dig up in her garden. Like me, she was curious about the health benefits. She cooked them as chips (and had lots of them, even after being warned). She learned her lesson... Anyway, both of them never wanted to eat them again and as I was not a huge fan, we sold tubers in markets and gave some to friends and family members (with a warning). We tried to remove them from our gardens but as they are still returning, we keep sharing them again! 🤣


Sunchoke cooking • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020

My neighbours loved them despite everything, which is great as they cannot consume potatoes. I offered them a big tuber for sowing, which they planted in their compost patch. The plant was so tall and big—way over 3 meters! After a first look, we think there are about 8 kg of sunchokes in the ground.


Sneaking in my neighbour's yard • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021


GROWING & COOKING TIPS

Sunchokes are quite easy to grow and do not require much attention other than full sun and water... Just make sure to give enough space and plant somewhere you won't mind them coming back. Tubers can be prepared like potatoes, but the taste is much more earthy. They also don't store the same way and perish quickly, so it is best to leave them on the ground and dig them up as needed. I found that storing in a sealed bag with sand in a cool dark place can work if you keep some tubers until spring. Some people will eat it raw, but like most root veggies, I prefer them to be cooked. Even though I am not a huge fan of them, I think they are great in pureed soup and pan-fried. Besides the wind effect, they have amazing nutritional features, as dietary inulin fibre benefits the gut and health. And a big plus against the potatoes, they won't make you fat. I have dug them all out each year, and there is always a little bulb left somewhere shooting back each spring. So: I've decided to stop fighting and enjoy the pretty yellow flower each summer's end. If any locals want to taste and/or grow them, I'm always happy to share!



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