"Topinambur", or Jerusalem Artichoke is a member of the sunflower family (as are artichokes) and native to North America. Sent to Europe in 1610 as a starvation food, its cultivation was soon eclipsed by the potato. Recently it has regained some importance as a crop because high yields and starch content make it of interest to the energy industry.
The root stores starch in the form of inulin, a fructose polymer. Inulin is digested in the large intestine by microorganisms, resulting in several interesting phenomena. It does not spike blood sugar, making it an alternative food for diabetics, and it acts as a dietary fiber by binding water in a gel and moving food through the digestive tract. As with many insoluble fibers, this can cause gastric distress in humans not accustomed to it.
Topinambur is cultivated in small areas in Germany and 90% of it is used to make a schnapps called Rossler (from Ross-Erdäpfel, since it is fed to horses) or Topi. It is also sold in natural food stores as a chewable tablet that swells in the stomach and decreases hunger and as a sweet syrup.
Topinambur can be eaten raw and cooked and is found in many German whole food recipes ("Vollwertkost"). It is a brown root resembling ginger root. The plant looks like a sunflower with small flowers. In the garden it can become invasive, since it reproduces vegetatively from the roots.