Ted Dinan, Professor of Psychiatry at UCC and I shared a platform at the Science Foundation of Ireland and IIBN event at the River Lee Hotel recently.
Professor Dinan at LitFest 2017
Professor Dinan spoke about the ground-breaking research he and his colleagues in UCC have done on the link between our physical and mental health and our gut biome. Given the conclusions of this research project and the indisputable link between the health of our gut biome and several autoimmune diseases including depression, there were many questions from the floor on how to enhance our gut flora…
Was there not a quick fix, a magic pill or supplement to fast track a solution? Professor Dinan stressed that very few of the nutritional and health claims on supplements could actually be substantiated.
Our food can and should be our medicine – we need a biodiverse diet to feed the approximately 1.5 kilos of beneficial bacteria in our gut (equivalent to the weight of our brain).
Having observed students from all over the world responding positively to a diet of fresh naturally produced seasonal food over more than four decades, Ted’s scientific research confirms my ‘gut feeling’…pardon the pun! It’s clear, we need to ditch fake food and eat lots of real food, not ‘edible food like substances’.
There are several hugely beneficial foods that we can consume to enhance our gut flora, but we both agree that Jerusalem Artichokes (sunchokes in the USA), top the list.... They have the highest inulin content of any vegetable, which promotes beneficial bacteria in the gut biome. By coincidence, Jerusalem artichokes are coming into season right now and will continue to be available until late February or early March.
The freshly dug Jerusalem artichokes I brought with me to show the audience were eagerly snapped up. Many people had never heard of them before and really wanted to know how to cook them. I explained that they are a prolific winter root vegetable, super easy to grow. In fact given half the chance they spread like crazy. Where you plant just one tuber in Spring, there will be at least ten for you to harvest next year.
Meanwhile seek them out at Farmers Markets from now on. They look like knobbly potatoes but when they are freshly dug there is no need to peel. Jerusalem artichokes are nutty, sweet and crunchy and are also an excellent source of iron.
They are super versatile and can be cooked in a myriad of ways just like potatoes and parsnips, they make delicious winter soups and gorgeous gratins. Add them to stews, or sliver them to cook as artichoke crisps. They roast deliciously whole or in slices and are hugely appealing added to salads. I love them gently stewed or tucked around a casserole roast chicken or pheasant so they absorb all the delicious juices.
Despite what the name implies, they are not in any way related to the globe artichoke although the flavour resembles the fleshy heart.
Jerusalem artichokes are actually from the sunflower family, the name may well have been derived from the Italian word ‘girasole’. Our children love them, their knobbly appearance provides lots of fun identifying little monsters.
Some modern varieties are less knobbly and thus easier to peel but in my experience have an inferior flavour. By the way, the cheery yellow flowers are edible too.
Good to know…
Jerusalem Artichokes, like Globe Artichoke hearts, oxidise within minutes if exposed to the air, so they need to be dropped into a bowl or acidulated water as soon as they are peeled. They also earn their nick name ‘fartichokes’ but that is just proof that they are doing a good job for your gut biome…
They store for weeks in a cold dark place – forgot to mention that Jerusalem Artichokes contain more protein than most root vegetables, a big plus for vegetarians and vegans.