Taking the Wind Out of Jerusalem Artichokes

jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes look like thick, pale gingerroots.

Does your spouse refuse to eat Jerusalem artichokes because they’re too—err—windy? Have you yourself abandoned your Jerusalem artichoke patch to the weeds or the pigs, because no human of your acquaintance would eat the damn things again? If so, you have plenty of company.

If you can’t quite place this native North American vegetable, you may know it instead by a name invented by a California produce wholesaler in the 1960s: the sunchoke. The sun part of this moniker comes from sunflower, because the plant is closely related to the sunflower that provides us seeds for birds and snacks and oil. Jerusalem artichoke blooms look like small sunflowers, and they can grow just as tall.

The Jerusalem part of Jerusalem artichoke came about soon after the plants were first grown in Europe, in the early seventeenth century at the Farnese Garden in Rome. From there they were distributed to the rest of Europe as Girasole articiocco, “sunflower artichoke.” In the diet book that he published in 1620, an English doctor, Tobias Venner, translated Girasole as “Jerusalem”—a good first guess, perhaps, but unfortunately the name stuck. Soon inventive English cooks were making their Jerusalem artichokes into “Palestine soup.”

Sunroot would be a better name for the vegetable than sunchoke, in my opinion, because Jerusalem artichokes certainly are not artichokes, and they have nothing like the hairy, inedible part of an artichoke that is called the choke. Yet the two vegetables known as artichoke are discreetly similar in their chemical makeup and flavor. Samuel de Champlain noted this in 1605, when he found Indians on Cape Cod growing roots with “le goust d’artichaut,” the taste of artichokes. Both artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes, he may have observed, share a peculiar sweetness. This sweetness comes from inulin, a kind of soluble fiber that passes through the human digestive system intact until bacteria go to work on it in colon, releasing a lot of gas in the process. Artichokes are rich in inulin. Jerusalem artichokes have about half again as much, by percentage of fresh weight.

I thank Rose Marie Nichols McGee, of Nichols Garden Nursery, for asking the question I should have long ago asked myself: Can fermentation rid Jerusalem artichokes of their windiness?

Rose Marie posed that question about a year ago, and the two of us promptly decided to conduct an experiment. After digging up the little patch of Jerusalem artichokes that I’d ignored for ten years, I brined a pint of the rhizomes according to the kakdooki (Korean fermented daikon) recipe on page 64 of The Joy of Pickling, with garlic and powdered chile. Rose Marie developed another recipe based on one of mine, she said, although nothing about it sounded the least familiar. With a stroke of brilliance, she added turmeric, so that her pickled Jerusalem artichokes turned out a brilliant yellow. We shared both pickles, hers and mine, at a Slow Food board meeting, and people seemed to find them both tasty. I requested follow-up digestive reports.

But I got none. Was this good news? I couldn’t be sure. Apparently nobody’s bellyache was bad enough to prompt a complaint. But, then, the meeting attendees hadn’t actually agreed to tell me about their gas problems. Some of them may have felt they really didn’t know me well enough. And none of them had eaten more than a small handful of the pickled rhizomes. So the results of our study were inconclusive.

In digging up my Jerusalem artichoke patch, however, I must have missed a little rhizome. Last summer, sans weeding and sans water, a single nine-foot sunflower stalk shot up. I could experiment some more!

I waited through most of the winter to dig up the rhizomes, because time alone has been said to convert much of the inulin in Jerusalem artichokes to fructose. In January, I harvested a crop just as big as the previous year’s, at least ten pounds. Several nights of temperatures around 0 degrees Fahrenheit had done the rhizomes no harm.

I first assessed their windiness by simply roasting some with salt, pepper, and olive oil. The roasted rhizomes were delicious, but still gassy.

Inspired by Rose Marie’s example, I then pickled some of the Jerusalem artichokes in this way:

fermented jerusalem artichokesMellow Yellow Jerusalem Artichoke Pickle

1½ pounds Jerusalem artichokes, broken into nodes, thoroughly scrubbed, and cut into ½-inch dice
1 teaspoon ground dried turmeric
1 ounces garlic (about 8 cloves), chopped
½ ounce fresh ginger, minced (about 1 ½ tablespoons)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons pickling salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1½ cups water

Toss together the diced Jerusalem artichokes, the turmeric, the garlic, the ginger, and the cumin. Pack the mixture into a jar with a capacity of at least 6 cups. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Pour the brine over the Jerusalem artichokes; it will not cover them at first. Add a brine bag (a gallon freezer-weight plastic bag containing 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 3 cups water) or another suitable weight.

The next day the brine should cover the Jerusalem artichokes. If it doesn’t, add more brine mixed in the same proportions.

Wait several days before tasting the pickle. I found it perfect after a week: The brine was sour, and the Jerusalem artichokes pleasantly, mildly spicy and still crunchy.

When the pickle has fermented enough to suit your taste, store the jar in the refrigerator. Keep the Jerusalem artichokes weighted so they won’t take on a grayish cast.

Several people have now eaten this pickle in potentially distressing quantities. The test subjects remained on site this time, so that if reports didn’t come verbally they would emerge in another form. And nobody has suffered.

I hope that these results will be duplicated by other investigators. Let me know, OK? Don’t be shy.

About Linda Ziedrich

I grow, cook, preserve, and write about food in Oregon's Willamette Valley.
This entry was posted in Fermented foods, Food history, Pickles, Preserving science, Vegetables and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Taking the Wind Out of Jerusalem Artichokes

  1. ah, yes, fartichokes! I do grow them — although we only eat so much of them – a few roasted and in soups… But they are pretty in a blowsy sorts of way, and my cochin chicken love them enough to help with harvesting. No side effects noticed on them. I use the dry stems for kindling – they work wonderfully. I also make a pickle similar to the ones above (I understand they are a traditional Southern pickle), except I slice the tubers like coins, add some onuons and a hot dry pepper or 2. They are welcome with a plate of saucisson. And it’s always fun to have people guess what they are… they don’t, but are generally intrigued by the artichoke taste. No side effect noted either when they are vinegar-pickled. Will you report on the lacto-fermented ones?

  2. Sylvie, thanks for sharing your experience. I actually don’t remember anyone complaining about aftereffects of eating vinegar-pickled Jerusalem artichokes, but then I don’t remember anyone eating them in quantity. The fermented pickle here is mild enough in flavor that people tend to eat more of it at once. So far no ill effects have been reported.

  3. What a brilliant idea for taming sunchokes! I once read that they’re meant to be eaten only after they’ve been stored or overwintered in-ground, which encourages the indigestible starches (inulin) to convert to sugar — a bit of lost knowledge. To accomplish the same thing, Harold McGee recommends cooking for 12-24 hours at low temps around 200°F.

    • I also tried cooking Jerusalem artichokes very slowly, in a slow cooker, but that method seemed ineffective. Perhaps I shouldn’t have included onion, another rumbly vegetable.

  4. Thank you Linda, for this forthcoming and funny post. After the experience with Yotam Ottolenghi’s from his Jerusalem cookbook, Roasted chicken with a full pound of Jerusalem artichokes, which was delicious but obviously too much of a good thing, I thought I would never make anything with Jerusalem artichokes again. But with your recipe at hand I am definitely reconsidering.

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  7. lizard100 says:

    Very useful. We cook out with a herb called summer savory in English or more appropriately bean herb in dutch. (bonenkruid) which does help somewhat.

  8. I started these about a week ago and first there was some foam, I suppose from the fermentation. I then put them in the fridge and when I checked today the liquid had turned gooey, almost slimy, yet the color and smell are still the same, just very garlicky. Is that consistency normal and are they safe to eat? I have little experience with fermenting so I want to make sure it is OK. Thanks.

  9. Nadia, gooeyness and sliminess are bad signs. I don’t know why the fermentation went wrong for you, but eating slimy Jerusalem artichokes might cause more digestive distress than eating raw ones. Sorry about that.

  10. linda says:

    has anyone ever made “Dill ” artichoke pickles?

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  12. I’ve pickled them successfully and there were no ill effects to my guests, even eating a great quantity of them. They are wonderful sliced and pickled with turmeric and mustard seeds. I served them with a platter of cheese and cured meats.

    I also like them cooked into a soup although they still promote a certain amount of gasiness that way.

    Thanks for the recipe, I will try your fermentation method.

  13. Nancy Dey says:

    anyone try a little baking soda?

    • Nancy, although baking soda can definitely relieve stomach gas, I’ve never heard that it helps with gas produced by bacteria in the intestines.

    • Peter Upton says:

      Interesting idea, Nancy. Baking soda proves useful in so many situations that the writer Bill Bryson suggested that if someone ever comes up with a solution to nuclear waste it will probably involve baking soda!

  14. kirk says:

    With a fridge full of fermented veg, I keep meaning to ferment some sunchokes. I’ve heard they are particularly rich in PREbiotics that the PRObiotics love to eat (not sure if it was inulin or something else). I’ll dig some when the ground thaws. Thanks for the inspiration!

  15. 1left says:

    No wind and we are on our last jar as we made 6 – 750 ml jars using your recipe with minor changes to use up some caraway seed and horseradish. I eat 3 of these tasty pickles a day with pleasant intestinal results. thanks

  16. Barb says:

    I have quite a patch of these growing, wow they are strong growers!
    Our ground is soft and I will try this as soon as it is dry enough outside to allow digging.

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  18. Ryan says:

    To respond to the gooey-slimey fermentation question posted above:
    I am an enthusiastic fermenter of vegetables and I have found that there is often a stage about 7-10 days into the fermentation, depending on the temperature–where one can find a gooey consistency to the brine. I panicked the first time I encountered this, and so I did a little research. The guru of fermentation, Jonathan Katz, has written about this and recommends trying to leave the fermentation one or two weeks longer. I tried this and found it to be true–if I left these ferments go another two weeks, making sure to keep them packed, keep the surface clean of visible spores, and keep all veggies well under the brine–the gooey stage would pass and the ferment would be watery again. and would be delicious!
    Now, slime, especially pink slime or moldy slime, is another story. If you see this, it is best to throw out your batch. But If there is no color to your goo and it is about midway into a good fermentation, try letting the batch continue to see if it dissipates. If it does, and tastes and smells good (“ripe” is ok) and has no visible signs of spoiling or mold, it is safe to eat.
    Also, if slime or goo appears after a month or more, it is probably mold, not part of the natural fermentation.
    This rule would apply to fermenting sunchokes just like cabbage, carrots, beets, or radishes.

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  21. F.E. says:

    Has anyone tried Asafoetida Powder? Also known as hing. It is used in eastern dishes and is said to remove the windy effects of food. I use a little in things like my black bean chili. With three boys in the house this was a blessing.

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  24. Judith Brennan says:

    Do I need to boil the jars when making this type of pickle?

  25. pamelamiles says:

    Bay leaf is said to make beans more digestible. I wonder if that would help with sunchokes?

  26. Irit says:

    I have just harvested a whole bunch of large roots…but they have a malodorous smell and are surrounded by a black layer that may be a mildew. Though it hasn’t been very cold here in London, the plant beds are soaked; perhaps this has lead them to rot? The thing is that they are still crisp. I am loathe to bin them, but after scrubbing, not all has come off. Seems a shame to waste them. Have any of you ever encountered this problem before?

    • On the farm we had a very high water table, so sometimes I would dig up rotten Jerusalem artichokes. I’m surprised that yours are still crisp, though black and smelly. Still, it sounds as if rot has set in. You probably don’t need to throw out all of the roots, but I would cut away any parts that are discolored or stinky.

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