Comparatively, there are about three times as many results for "Jerusalem artichoke" as opposed to "sunchoke" in a quick Google search. However, this tuber is not from Jerusalem—it's native to North America—nor is it related to the artichoke. Rather, it is actually the root of a variety of sunflower, which likely explains the "sunroot" descriptor used by Native American tribes who cultivated the food. The term "sunchoke" appears to be the handiwork of food marketers in the United States during the 1960s, and is the term many chefs and farmers use today to eliminate any confusion.
The knobby root might be mistaken for ginger at first glance, but appearance is the only similarity. Sunchokes have a texture reminiscent of a potato, with a slightly nutty flavor and a mild sweetness, and are good sources of iron, potassium and vitamin C. And like the potato, sunchokes lend themselves well to a variety of preparations—roasting, frying, puréing, etc. There are some debates about whether or not they are suitable to be eaten raw as some people can experience certain digestive issues—hence the unsavory "fartichoke" nickname.
When purchasing sunchokes, look for ones without soft spots or dry patches. The thin-skin is often eaten, but it's important to clean them thoroughly to remove any dirt. The most effective way is to scrub them with a produce brush under running water. The flesh will oxidize when cut, so it is recommended to hold in acidulated water if not cooking immediately following any prep work.
Sunchokes tend to be most abundant from autumn through spring. Unfortunately for most, they are seldom seen in traditional grocery stores, but those who frequent farmers' markets have likely come across their path. If not there, then encounters with sunchokes are likely to occur on plates in restaurants across the country. You can currently find them on menus at Gramercy Tavern and The NoMad in New York City, Hazel in Washington, D.C., Somerset in Chicago and Journeymen in Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Seacoast Eat Local/Flickr.