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Chinese artichokes are not actually artichokes—they are tubers that are part of the mint family and found in China and Japan. The term “Chinese artichoke” refers to the root of the plant, found underground. They go by many names, such as the biological term stachys affinis, the chorogi, the knotroot or the Crosne. While the plant itself is said to be easily cultivated, the edible tubers can prove difficult to deal with in the kitchen. There are many different ways one can prepare the Chinese artichoke, and the food has seen a resurgence in popularity.
Many consider the appearance of the Chinese artichoke odd and have likened the tuber to several things, from a string of mottled pearls to chess pieces to petrified worms—the look of the plant owes to one of its many names, the knotroot. The bushy plant that grows above ground is dark green in color and grows an average of 18 inches (45.7 cm) in height between the seasons of March and October. It produces white or pink flowers that can look pointy in shape. The plant is generally considered easy to grow, though adequate moisture and room are required to produce large tubers. Once the root takes hold, however, eradicating the plant from the garden may prove difficult, as the roots grow deep and continue to spring up each season.
The popularity of the Chinese artichoke first began in the 1880s near Crosne, France—that is why "Crosne" is one of the monikers by which the tuber is known. The plant was reportedly imported from Peking by a French doctor. French cuisine still uses it in many japonaise or Japanese-style dishes. It is also used often in Osechi, the foods prepared for Japanese New Year that each hold a specific meaning.
The nutty flavor and crunchy texture of the Chinese artichoke and its tendency to be treated as a vegetable in the kitchen result in the various ways the food can be prepared. In China, the tuber is often pickled and used in salads or as an appetizer. It can also be cleaned, but not peeled, and served raw in salads, as a garnish on entrees or as a light snack on its own. Practically any preparation used for vegetables can apply to cooking Chinese artichokes: they can be steamed, stir-fried, cooked into soups or baked.
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