Chinese artichokes, also known as chorogi, betony or crosne... are an unusual, gnarled-looking winter vegetable that are also surprisingly delicious. The artichokes themselves are white tubers that grow from the base of this herbaceous plant. They take 5 months or more to grow, thus, with a spring/summer planting, they can be harvested in the autumn or winter, or left to grow into the following planting season. The tubers are used in Asian and French cuisines, and have been used medicinally to treat colds and pneumonia.
Chinese artichokes are quite fibrous, consisting of carbohydrates, dietary fibre and water. They are an excellent source of folate and vitamin K, and a moderate source of vitamin C, manganese and magnesium. Compared to regular artichokes, they have a much higher fibre content, however, they take much less time to cook (10-12 minutes vs 20-40 minutes for normal artichokes). Other differences between the two include their plant species (Chinese artichokes are part of the mint/sage family whereas normal artichokes are part of the thistle family), harvest time (autumn/winter vs summer) and cultivation, since one is a root tuber and the other is the edible portion of the budding head of a flower. There are some similarities as well: both are often classified as invasive species in certain contexts, both are perennials and both have compounds with antioxidant properties.
Where do Chinese artichokes come from?
The tubers are native to Japan and China. It wasn't until the 1880s that the Chinese artichoke or crosnes were introduced into Europe, first in France where they were cultivated near the region of Crosne.
As expected, Chinese artichokes are somewhat less popular than regular ones, and are often less available in commercial supermarkets. However, given that it is easy to grow on most continents, it has the potential to grow in popularity if its culinary and medicinal uses become more widespread. Chinese artichokes have become more popular in the United States, at least in the chef world, and their hefty price tag only aids their fine-dining ambitions.
How to eat Chinese artichoke or crosnes
Although they have certain characteristics of other tubers like potatoes, Chinese artichokes are somewhat more versatile when it comes to cooking. Most similar to water chestnuts in taste, texture and consistency and much in the same way as sunchokes, they can be cooked in any number of ways (boiled, steamed, stir-fried, baked, etc), pickled, dried, or consumed raw. What these tubers lack in aesthetics they make up for with their delicate nutty flavour and crunchy flesh that have increasingly been championed by chefs in recent years.
Try cooking them by simply blanching and sauteing in herbs and butter or lightly steam and finish with lots of butter - the preferred French method of larousse.
In Japan they are commonly pickled, while chefs experiment by adding them shaved or sliced to accent many dishes.
Readers may be surprised to learn that given Chinese artichokes’ similarity to sunchokes, water chestnuts and other tubers, it’s actually regular artichokes that are the unusual ones when it comes to cooking: they require more preparation steps and more discernment on cooking time. How long you should steam the artichokes is very important so you don’t end up with a vegetable that’s hard to chew or just a mushy mess. Once you’ve mastered that, you might try cooking them in other ways, or venture this artichoke tarte tatin. For a warm, winter treat, you might also opt for this Jerusalem artichoke soup and chips easy-to-make comfort food for when you’re stuck inside.