Monday, June 1, 2009

My First and Last Sunchoke

Have you ever tried a sunchoke? I hadn’t, not until just recently. I’d been wanting to try them for some time, but they can be a little hard to come by. So when I spotted the curious, knobby vegetables at the farmers market, I picked some up. They looked innocent enough.

I had always read that sunchokes are good in a potato puree, but I wanted to taste them all by themselves. The point was to experience pure sunchoke, without the flavor being masked by gobs of cream and butter. And to be honest, I’m sort of a purist when it comes to my mashed potatoes.

I decided that the best way to get to know my sunchokes was to roast them with nothing but a bit of olive oil. Of course, I tasted them raw, too. Roasted, they had an unusual texture, somewhere between that of a potato and a water chestnut. They were tasty, with a sweet, nutty flavor. Definitely good enough to add to my repertoire, but…

It turns out that consuming large quantities of sunchokes can have very, very uncomfortable consequences. Let’s just say—oh, how to put this delicately?—that they caused my insides to react just like the Hindenburg. Which is to say, explosively. My guts were all tied up in knots for no less than 24 hours. I’m no doctor, but I believe that’s what’s known as gastrointestinal distress. My husband only experienced mild symptoms.

The fact that sunchokes are still widely considered food and that cookbooks are loaded with sunchoke recipes tells me that lots of people eat them with little or no ill effects. I, however, am not one of those people. And if you are still willing to give sunchokes a try, let me give you this little word of advice: just don’t eat a whole half a pound your first time out.

Roasted Sunchokes
Printable Recipe

2 pounds sunchokes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Toss together the sunchokes and oil in a large bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking tray and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until tender and golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8. Sunchokes are also known as Jerusalem artichokes. For the best results, be sure not to overcrowd the pan.


Mary said...

I just found your blog, searching for sunchoke recipes. I also tried them for the first time this week, cut very thin and roasted, so they turned out more like chips. No GI distress, but my husband and I just split one sunchoke. I love the flavor and crunch, so I hope I can continue to stomach them!

poxacuatl said...

Hi, So sorry about your sunchoke experience! I'd probably give 'em up too.
Personally, I never cook them. A good sunchoke should be sweet like a young fresh beet or a more like a jicama. If it's not, I know it's not a good one! Being mild, a bit crunchy, and sweet they are perfect for salads. Really delicious in slaws or salad-sandwiches. I've not tried frying or baking chips out of them, but I've read they are delicious that way too.

Jose said...

I just had to say that this had me on the floor laughing. Thank god I haven't found a food that does that too me besides being dumb enough to order Pacific fish in the Midwest.
Q: "Is it Fresh?"
A: "Of course it's not"

JohnandLizzie said...

I have to say that eating the tasty sunchokes also makes my insides erupt like Mt Vesuvius and I am surprised by the discomfort such a great little vege can create! Does ANYONE know of a way to prepare this little "wind" manufacturer so as to avoid GI pains?

Stefano Mugnaini said...

Nothing you can do...its the breakdown of the inulin into fructose that gets you...I don't think Beano will do it.

nicole said...

i made a sunchoke gratin this afternoon and thought it was super tasty, however since then i've been *sick* but having just read your blogpost i think i understand what is going on. i doubt i'll make it again.

Laura said...

Haha..sorry to laugh at your discomfort, but this truly was a great little story. I have been wanting to try these guys for some time now, but did not know what they were or how to cook them..I now have some info.and ideas.Thanks..Though the thought of an unpleasant 24hours in the bathroom is a tad intimidating, I think I still have to try them!!!

Aman Chaudhary said...

You may not have cooked them long enough. They should be soft and almost creamy on the inside. If they still have that crispy jicama-like texture inside they are not ready to eat. That's probably why they caused you such discomfort.

At 400 you should have cooked them for a good hour. 40 minutes at 475.

DoAn said...

Your reaction is caused by inulin, which is a derivative of fructose contained in Sunchokes. Some humans lack the digestive enzymes to break down inulin, and without it gas builds up in the digestive system. I am fortunately one of those people who don't have a problem with inulin, but even for those who do, just limiting the amount of sunchokes eaten at a sitting can make a big difference.

It is worth eating a small amount because they are quite healthy and for those who are diabetic they make a great food source.

Sunchokes contain inulin – a type of carbohydrate that is a derivative of fructose. We don’t have the digestive enzymes for this, and foods that we can’t digest cause gas. There is nothing unhealthy about the gas – but in the case of sunchokes it can be pretty extreme and very uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

You can slowly introduce Inulin into your diet to acclimate your body to the substance. Nearly all people who don't have IBS can become tolerant of it.

Anonymous said...

I tried a sunchoke-mushroom bisque recipe the farm that supplies my vegetables provided. Since it was a new food, I ate just a small amount for lunch yesterday. I'm still in distress. Never again. I still have a half pound of sunchokes that's going in the trash with the rest of the soup. I hate to waste food but this is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I tried Sunchokes and had gas and severe pain for many hours.

dandelionpicker said...

I have the same problem when I eat artichokes...but I love them, so I eat them anyway! I think its all the fiber. But sunchokes aren't actually related to artichokes, they're tubers. I have yet to try them but I'm glad I found your blog before I do! I will definitely try in small doses :) Thanks!

Anonymous said...

After spending all of last night in distress, I became suspicious of the sunchokes I'd just tried and googled them today. Sure enough, this article confirms it. They taste OK, but they're definitely not worth the gastrointestinal ordeal.

Anonymous said...

As a previous commenter has mentioned, the gastrointestinal effect of jerusalem artichokes are due to the high content of inulin which human don't digest, but that guy bacteria absolutely adore. For this reason, they make an excellent probiotic, and are to be recommended to anyone who wants to promote the health of their own gut flora rather than drinking yoghurts full of alien bacteria that don't tend to survive in our guts long-term.

Harold McGee does mention in "... On Food and Cooking" that slow-roasting them does convert the inulin to a more digestible carbohydrate form. He suggests 12-24 hours at 93 Celsius / 200 Fahrenheit in olive oil, and whilst i don't tend to have problems eating them in the first place, I can highly recommend this method of cooking them.

Anonymous said...

i eat sunchokes most everyday and i grow soil is pure. no chemicals of any kind and no fertilizers.sunchokes will absorb pollutants in the soil.the skin should be a very light tan.cut off the dark root tip, keep in water in the fridge.important to know how they are grown.

Barb said...

We had them over Christmas, roasted with a bunch of other root vegetables. They were delicious and did tasted a bit like artichokes. I'm not sure how long my husband cooked them, but we didn't notice any GI problems out of the ordinary. That being said, we had them with brussels sprouts, and had turkey the next day-- both gas-inducing foods.

There is a very good pasta made of Jerusalem artichoke flour (Debolles), and I've never had any GI upset after I've eaten it. It was recommended to my uncle by his doctor for his heart problems-- I was very young, so I bet now he had type 2 diabetes. He was Italian and needed to have his pasta. He (and I) just thought it tasted good.

By the way, inulin is the stuff in yogurt that's supposed to be good for weight loss.


Christine O'Meally said...

Just had my first sunchoke dish. I'm up at 4:05am in absolute agony. Horrible discomfort. I think the cramping is worse than the gas. Although my husband might disagree with that. Hence the reason I'm up on the computer instead of in bed....

anniem said...

I just found your blog when searching to find out what a sunchoke was. I have discovered that they are what we here in NZ call Jerusalem artichokes and we mostly make them into soup, that way you don't eat too much at one time. Not for nothing are they often called fartichokes!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I experienced the very same distress. This will be the first and only time I incorporate sunchokes in my diet!

Anonymous said...

Yikes so glad I found this at 3am as I thought I had some massive GI problem. My first and last experience as well. Too bad as they are delicious but the pain and flatulence was the worst ever.

eagledove9 said...

I can sympathize with your bad experience. I've tried foods that everyone else said were perfectly fine, and gotten sick from them. For example, bone marrow. Be very, very careful if you ever try it - it can cause vomiting very soon after you eat it, within only a few minutes. And yet, hundreds of people say it's delicious and wonderful. I've talked to someone I knew in person (not just something I read online), someone I trust, and she said she was fine when she ate bone marrow, and I don't think she was lying.

I tried sunchokes too, but I only ate a teeny bit of one, because I was trying a bunch of other foods at the same time. I didn't get sick from them, but I totally believe you when you say you did. And you ate a lot of them.

The same thing can happen if you ever go foraging for wild hopniss, apios americana. Some people eat them without any problems, but other people eat them and it triggers vomiting and diarrhea.

Thank you for your anecdote - I will remember to be cautious if I ever try sunchokes again.

GonnaGetCrapforThis said...

While I was searching for sunchoke recipes last night, I came across this article and all the wonderful comments. Since I already had the sunchokes in my fridge, I decide to make them for dinner anyway. I roasted them until tender with garlic and olive oil, and they were delicious.

My fiance, however, might regret my dinner decision. It seems that while I don't have any trouble with their delicious earthiness. My fiance is not so fortunate.

By bedtime last night, she was in terrible pain and looked like one of those malnourished distended children from one of those Sally Struthers commercials.

She had to dash out of bed twice for close calls, and now the poor thing can't spend more than 30 minutes on the couch before running for the bathroom.

I rolled the dice when I went ahead and roasted the 'chokes. She lost.

I guess I won't be making them again.

Anonymous said...

This is my first year planting the sunchokes or JA and from what many farmers here in North East have stated they are good plant for north east but not for southern climates and are very invasive too. Farmers have suggested to not pick the tubers until after a hard frost as the forst reduces the inulin level and you won't get GI distress by the conversion of inulin to Fructose. Any other suggestions from foodscience stand point is always great to hear.

Robin Poe said...

I grow Jerusalem artichokes in a corner of my garden and I used them mostly in pot roast or slow-cooking processes. I knew that you had to wait until the tops die down to eat them or you get the gas attack.

I tried them in October when the tops had fallen over, but there was still a bit of green in them and I got the bad gas. So I waited until a good hard frost and tried them again and it was fine.

I think you really need to wait until a good hard frost to harvest them. The best way to store them is in the ground and just dig them up when you need them. I just had some tonight in a pot roast.

So the best way to avoid hte gas:
(1) Don't harvest them until after a hard frost.
(2) Cook them a long time or deep fry them

Anonymous said...

Oh dear be warned!!!!!!
Suffer eith divoticular desiese and ibs.
Did not know side effects.of said root!
Even after long slow roast have been up half the night in agony.....they are just not worth it

Robert Platt Bell said...

Great article and recipe. We both found that eating a lot of sunchokes would cause diverticulitis-like symptoms - cramping in the bowels, and abdominal distress.

They are sure tasty, but I think like everything else, moderation is the key.

I guess some of us are sunchoke-intolerant.

I have diverticulosis and after eating sunchokes, the symptoms were similar to that of a diverticulitis attack. My partner had the same problem!

eagledove9 said...

I tried a jicama recently. I knew what to expect - that it might make me vomit - because I've read other people's stories at pages like this. I only ate a tiny little bit, and had a strange tickling sensation in my mouth when I took a bite of it. I really, really don't think it's merely the inulin that causes the vomiting. It's something else, some other substance, some kind of toxin. I barely ate any jicama at all, but then I got these very strange, twinge-ing sensations and strange movements in my abdomen afterwards. I think it is some kind of drug-like toxin rather than merely the fiber. I had no gas at all, so 'a bunch of gas caused by inulin' doesn't seem like a good explanation. I did have intense pains in my abdomen. There is also a toxin in bean plants, such as green peas, which will cause intense abdominal pains unless you cook the peas absolutely to death for a very long time. The Native Americans (I read on some random internet page that I can never find again) said that the white people weren't cooking the tubers long enough, when they took various tubers from them (lily roots, I think). My jicama wasn't cooked to death. I still have the rest of it in the fridge, and might try again to cook it at higher heat, for longer, mashed up. I want to totally kill it. And then, I will test only one small bite to see if the toxin is gone.

Anonymous said...

After making a big batch of JA chips...delicious. About an hour later I felt a strange percolating sensation, which slowly developed into raging atomic farts. My wife is usually the queen of constipation had a little more dramatic reaction, which led to a few hasty trips to the loo. Could be fun to serve to unsuspecting guests lest they get wind of your plan. FYI my fartichokes were home grown and picked after a frost and the tops were killed.They did have the skins on them. I think experimentation with quantity, cooking technique and your tolerance is the best way to proceed with the tasty veggie. Remember to TOOT if you love sunchokes.

Teresa Olofson said...

jicima are sunchokes are not hte same things
am i right?

Lucy Vaserfirer said...

Teresa Olofson,
Jicama is a completely different thing.

Anonymous said...

I ate sunchokes, several (!) for the first time two days ago at a Sante Fe restaurant. They had skins on, and were soft, some not too soft, though. Had a bit of gas within an hour, then several episodes of projectile vomiting through the night ( my entire dinner )with shaking and chills. Couldn't eat much for the past two days. ( a liitle intestinal gas, but no diarrhea) I'm used to fiber, so it felt more like a toxicity response. Definitely will not be eating these things again!!!

Anonymous said...

I love the taste of sunchokes (also known as sunroot, and formerly known as Jerusalem Artichokes). I've tried boiling with skins on, roasting for a shorter time, and roasting for over 20 hrs at low temperature (200 degrees), and each version created lots of gas. The good thing is that there is never any odor. I was given a suggestion to peal them first, since the peel has the most inulin, before cooking, and that helped a lot. Still had some gas, but was very mild and short lived. Have not yet tried deep fried chips, but perhaps next year.

Juli in CO said...

Just an fyi for anyone else reading, my symptoms included vomiting all night. It started with the gas though. The terrible cramping kept me awake and the nausea associated when you've gone way past the point of having anything left to actually puke.
I had stored them for a week and a half prior to roasting, so that could have contributed to the extreme reaction.
My husband just had the farts. (I ate twice as much as he did. Thank heavens my kids didn't get any!)

Rob said...

I grow these as part of my market.
Just some hints to prepare them.
Don't boil, bake or roast them if you are sensitive to them. Instead, steam them whole or put them on top of a pot pf potatoes out of the water and they will cook about the same time.

Dont peel or cut them up

They cook very fast under 5 minutes. They will have a better flavor and texture as well.

Rob said...

Another note on storage and preperation:

Under no circumstances should you let sunchokes soak in water.

Keep them in an airtight bag until ready to use. Use a stiff bristle brush to clean them and scrape the darker spots. Do not peel.

Kathleen Ralston said...

I bought some pasta with Jerusalem artichoke. Never had it before. Shortly after the meal the vomiting began. It's very bad. I can't possibly have anything left in my stomach but I am still sick as a dog. Why is this being sold as food? There should at least be a warning. I feel like I am going to die!

Anonymous said...

While I regularly eat moderate amounts of sunchokes grown in our garden, they do cause gas of rather embarrassing sort (nothing worse). I will never repeat the mistake of eating a large, raw, unpeeled tuber a couple of hours before teaching a class!

Sue Stewart said...

I was watching a show where MARIO Batali was preparing sunchoke carpaccio and thought it would be good as a starter dish for dinner with friends. I'm so glad to find this blog! Yikes, I'm going to be rethinking things. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Harvesting after hard frost and slow roasting until creamy gave me beer belly bloating soon after consuming, and gas and diarrhea during night. Eating one raw before frost in October did not have any problems. My guess is I ate too much or I am low in enzyme or prebiotic this time. Need to research further as I just harvested 2 bushels and don't want to give them up.

Anonymous said...

Having discovered a recipe for pickled artichokes which is supposed to be wind free and which uses the carminatives, ginger and cumin sead and also turmeric - I am intending making a soup incorporating these to see if I can produce a wind-free soup - I really do like the taste of these vegetables.

Anonymous said...

I had never tried artichokes before my wedding day. I thought they were some kind of fruit that hung from a tree. My always fun best man told me the night before the wedding that there was a thing called the wedding blessing breakfast and he would be happy to prepare it for me the next morning.
I was so grateful that he would take care of this favor for me.
The wedding was at 4pm. I wouldn't have time to eat lunch so I filled up on the wedding day breakfast made up of what I now know was Jerusalem artichokes.
Most of my bride's family and I hadn't yet met. They are a conservative, somewhat refined family from old Niagara area.
To make a long story short, between the wedding, dinner, and reception, I tried to find any and every way to leave the table, disguise the sound of, and blame everything from the plumbing to the family dog for the erupting gas factory in my abdomen. I was even afraid of getting too close to the candles at the head table at our reception.
I will never forget my quivering thighs and clenched buttocks as I ineffectively tried to restrain the noxious toxic breezes issuing forth.
Fortunately my wife and I made it through the wedding day and everybody eventually saw the humorous side of things, but I'll never forget the trick my best man played on me.
Since I'm his oldest daughters' Godparent, I am planning a surprise for her wedding, too!

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