SWEET POTATO DEFINED
Sweet potato is one of our family’s favorite roots and with good reason. A sweet potato is essentially the fleshy tubers of some varieties of the ipomoea genus that we like to employ in the kitchen for their natural sweetness and their aid in good health. Most people may not recognize that sweet potato belongs to the most popular genus of the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). This makes it a very useful and ornamental vine that’s guaranteed to reward you with delicious and healthy edible roots at the end of each planting season.
FUNNY ENCOUNTER WITH OKINAWAN SWEET POTATO
We found this beauty in an Asian market just up the street from our home. It seemed so deceptive and unassuming as we walked by the label that read “PURPLE YAMS”. This made no sense to me so I stopped to take a closer look as I passed by the isle a second time. Surely, my vision wasn’t deceiving me. They were white. I decided to do what seemed crazy at the time. I picked up an evidently white tuber and flicked a decent pinch off the skin with my fingernail. It turns out the label wasn’t posted in error. It was purple.
I quickly turned to my best friend – google for more information on these purple-fleshed, white-skinned roots I’d never met before. They seemed pretty interesting so I brought some home and baked them. We’ve been eating Okinawan sweet potatoes ever since. Over time, I’ve learnt the benefits of growing and using these purple sweet potatoes. They add such richness to our dishes and our garden and we’re happy to share them with you.
OKINAWAN SWEET POTATO PROPERTIES
Okinawan purple sweet potatoes are the thickest sweet potatoes I’ve ever had! Bear in mind that I do not make that statement lightly. After all, I did grow up eating tons of the Jamaican white sweet potato. Like the Jamaican, the texture and flavor of the Okinawan purple variety is far superior to the more common orange varieties readily available in U.S. markets. Their texture makes them ideal candidates for pastries, creams and punches. You’ve got to try making some sweet potato ice-cream with this jewel! There is none to compare.
Isn’t it amazing how one root could come in so many variations? How many have you experienced: purple, red, orange, pink, gold, and white-flesh tubers? The Okinawan purple sweet potato is an interesting variety. Thick, light-green vines produce heart-shaped, bright-green leaves with trumpet-like blooms of pink and violet popping up within the folds. The vines produce tubers that are generally much sweeter and firmer than any of the widely cultivated types on the global market. The thick, white skin gives way to tight, purple flesh that takes on a dark, midnight plum color when cooked.
Speaking of cooking, perhaps one of the best properties of this purple sweet potato is that like the Jamaican variety, it has the ability to hold its’ form when cooked. It has a nice, firm, even texture when boiled or used in pudding and shakes. You’ll learn that this variety is best used in cooking methods that require added moisture. Try using it for cookies, pies and ice-cream! I’ve used it as a substitute for the traditional Jamaican sweet potato pudding when there’s no Jamaican white or Japanese sweet potato at hand. This sweet potato makes excellent cookies, cakes, ice-cream, milkshake, punch, porridge, buns, and so much more! Seriously though, you’ve got to try the ice-cream!
Let’s not forget that the plant also has its’ host of uses. The sweet potato plant makes an elegant ornamental and it’s perfect for small space or short seasons. You can plant it in a hanging basket on your porch. You can even train your plants over a lattice, arch, gazebo, or swing in your garden or landscape. If you’re looking for elegant groundcover, you can plant it over that rocky bed, along your driveway or any awkward space in your home, school or office.
PLANTING SWEET POTATO
Be mindful that the sweet potato is a creeper vine so if it is potted, I’d suggest putting it in a large hanging basket. They require very little attention once the right conditions are provided. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that they love warmth. Sweet potatoes thrive in warmer regions. Just provide rich, breathable soil and irrigation. Be sure there’s allowance for water runoff. The roots do not like to be waterlogged as this may cause root rot.
Plant your sweet potato slips at least a foot apart and watch them dance into maturity. Here’s the best part! You can harvest your sweet potato in as little as three months! This makes it perfect for those of us who live in temperate regions with only a few months of warmer weather. You can add this sweet potato plant to your garden this season and enjoy all the benefits. Our honey bees find the flowers very attractive so if you’ve an apiary, its’ presence will only serve to aid your production. If your plants are producing a profusion of flowers it’s usually a good indicator that they’re mature. I like to harvest by hand and not with tools as that can damage the sweet potato tubers. You can protect your hands with gloves as you unearth your treasures.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF SWEET POTATO
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A. They are also a very good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6, potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and phosphorus. The antioxidant known as anthocyanin is the pigment which is responsible for the brilliant purple color of the flesh. It is the same pigment that gives blueberries, red grapes and red cabbage their color.
The Okinawan purple sweet potato actually has 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries! What does all this mean for you really? You can boost your energy levels, skin health, and brain power just by eating sweet potatoes. The ipomoea tuber can also help in treating obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, colon and prostate cancer, infertility, constipation, inflammation and eye conditions.
SWEET POTATO & DIABETES
If you’re a diabetic, this bit is for you. Sweet potatoes have a medium glycemic index. As a result, I would not encourage diabetics to consume large amounts in a single meal. According to Medical New Today, recent research suggests sweet potatoes may reduce episodes of low blood sugar and insulin resistance in people with diabetes. The fiber in sweet potatoes makes a big difference too. Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One medium sweet potato provides about 6 grams of fiber (skin on).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 grams of fiber per day for women and 30-38 grams per day for men, which most people do not reach. Consult your nutritionist or healthcare provider about incorporating sweet potatoes into your diet while protecting your health. Boiling seems to be associated with lower glycemic index values than baking, frying or roasting.