I was introduced to this homely vegetable when I lived near Chattanooga, on the Tennessee-Georgia border. Since I’d eaten raw potatoes when playing house as a schoolgirl, the taste and texture were somewhat familiar. However, the carbohydrate in what is now commonly called sunchokes (see reasons above) is not starch, but rather inulin. Inulin is converted in the digestive tract to fructose rather than glucose, so it can be tolerated by diabetics from a sugar perspective. (Some people say it gives them gas. How much are they eating at $3.50 a pound?)
I was delighted to find them at the Farmer’s Market Sunday. Here in Northern Arizona they are a winter vegetable, sweeter after the first frost. The vendor explained I could cut off any eye and plant it, like a potato. I thought that would be a wonderful addition to my elevated herb garden and flower pots (since Javelina thrive on roots and dig up many plants just to taste whether or not they’ll like its root).
However, after checking it out on the Internet, I see this is not a good option for me. They grow to six feet in height, producing wonderful yellow, daisy-like flowers. Fine, but not for elevated gardens and flower pots. At ground level, they would not survive the Javelina, and my philosophy is the collared peccary were here first. Were it possible to plant enough for them and me, I would.
Sunchokes are most likely to be found in the northern 2/3 of the United States, and toward the East. North Carolina seems to be a particularly fertile plain for them.
They can be cooked, like potatoes. I like them raw. Since they taste a bit like water chestnuts (sweeter, and even crisper than a potato), I will add a few slices to my next stir fry.
I haven’t tried them in salad. I relish fruits and vegetables in their simplest, closest to nature state. Thus I’m inclined when I have a small bit of something utterly munchable to wash it and eat it from my hand, raw. Sunchokes make a delightful snack, without the need for salt or dips.
image from WikiCommons