The sweet potato is a popular ingredient in many classic, cool-weather recipes. You can stir it into a savory stew to feed a hungry crowd on game day, bake into a family-favorite casserole for a holiday meal, or simply roast a potato and eat it plain. Next time you are at the market buying sweet potatoes, look around and see if you spot something a little different. If you are lucky enough to find a purple sweet potato, it will probably either be a Stokes Purple®or an Okinawan sweet potato. There is a chance it may also be an Ube (pronounced OO-beh) but that is actually a yam, not a sweet potato. Purple sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin C and anthocyanin, thetype of flavonoid (a class of compounds with antioxidant effects) that provides many plants, such as cherries, grapes, and strawberries, with their natural red, purple, and blue coloring.
Where do Purple Sweet Potatoes Come From
The Stokes Purple® sweet potato hails from North Carolina. Mike Sizemore, a sweet potato farmer, received some purple-colored potatoes as a gift from an unidentified woman. He liked them so much that he began to cultivate them, eventually obtaining a patent and, in 2006, launched them in the commercial market.
The Okinawan sweet potato originated in Central and South America. It is believed that explorers introduced them to the Philippines and China in the 15thcentury, and the potato then made its way to Japan in the 1600’s. Initially planted in Okinawa, the southern island of Japan, they were soon cultivated all over Japan. Eventually, these purple potatoes wound up in Hawaii and became a part of the native menu, where they are also known as “Hawaiian sweet potatoes.” Today, they are widely grown in Hawaii and exported to the United States mainland.
How to Use a Purple Sweet Potato
Available from late August through late spring, the Stokes Purple® sweet potatoes, with a purple-tinted skin and bold purple flesh, have a drier, denser texture, and better-balanced sweetness than their orange counterparts. The key to getting maximum flavor and color from a Stokes Purple® is to bake it longer than you would a regular sweet potato and at moderate heat, about 90 to 120 minutes at 350 degrees, at which point it becomes pleasingly moist.
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Look for the Okinawan sweet potato in your grocery store in the fall and winter seasons. Unlike its darker skinned counterpart, the tubular-shaped Okinawan sweet potato has a buff or light brown colored skin with a violet-purple flesh. This tuber has a slightly sweet taste and a creamy texture, lending itself to the same recipes you would use with orange sweet potatoes.