November 30th, 2011 Riddle me this: It hails not from Jerusalem, and it’s not really an artichoke. What is it? The Jerusalem artichoke! Actually part of sunflower family, this tuber, native to North America, is commonly considered a weed. The root sends up a stem and flower resembling a sunflower, but is smaller and a little more prickly. How did it get this seemingly unrelated name? Some theories suggest that "Jerusalem" derives from a corruption of the Italian girasola , which means "turning towards the sun." "Artichoke" comes from the Arabic word for thistle, alkhurshuf, probably called so because of the plants above-ground foliation. Sir Walter Raleigh found Native Americans cultivating Jerusalem Artichokes in present-day Virginia in 1595. The Jerusalem artichoke has many aliases: sunchoke, sun root, earth apples. In the 1600s it was called the Canada Potato, by Samuel de Champlain and during WWII it garnered a reputation as the poor man’s vegetable, because it was so widely and frequently consumed. Historically, the Jerusalem artichoke was shunned due to a belief that eating it caused leprosy (something about the knobby choke looking like the misshapen hands of lepers!). This potato-like root vegetable is indeed knobby, with a thin brown skin, and white interior. It differs from the potato as it does not contain starch and because you can eat it raw! It cooks much like a potato, but tastes nuttier and more earthy. When raw its crisp texture is more reminiscent of a water chestnut or jicima, with a sweeter flavour. Store in the fridge or cold room for up to one week, after which they may start to get a little soggy and sad. Jerusalem artichokes are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and iron. An absence of starch makes Jerusalem artichokes a healthy potato-alternative. Try them raw – with dips, in salads, shredded in colesaw; or cooked – mashed, in soup, baked, or pan fried. It marries well with many flavorings: mustard, vinegar, olive oil, thyme, sage or ginger, garlic, citrus, and sesame oil.