Eat Local Spotlight: Okinawan Sweet Potato

Purple Power


Local Favorite Superfood

Sweet with a creamy texture, Okinawan sweet potatoes have a history as rich as their taste, Native to Central America, they are believed to have arrived in Spain and the Philippines courtesy of the many explorers traveling the globe.  From there, they made their way to China and arrived in Okinawa sometime between 1492 and 1605.

For an Okinawa population whose crops were threatened and often destroyed by frequent typhoons, the Okinawan sweet potato was a savior. Because the potato was hearty enough to survive storms, it provided a regular source of food for the Okinawans, enabling them to not only survive, but thrive.   Interestingly, this amazing food is now credited with being partially responsible for the large number of centarians — or people living past the age of 100 — in Okinawa.

Lucky for us here in Hawaii, Okinawan sweet potatoes are grown locally, with those we sell at Foodland coming largely from the Big Island. Initially taking root here in the gardens of plantation workers, this superfood has become a local favorite!

Here are a few reasons you may want to add local Okinawan sweet potatoes to your shopping list:

The Color Purple: Okinawan sweet potatoes get their purple color from anthronyacin, the pigment that gives antioxidant rich foods like blueberries, blackberries, and red grapes their color.  Said to contain 150% more antioxidants than blueberries, Okinawan sweets pack a powerful purple punch!

Good as Gold: Higher in Vitamin A and C and rich with dietary fiber, potassium, iron, and more, Okinawan sweet potatoes are said to help improve blood sugar, reduce cholesterol, guard against heart disease and cancer and have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties as well.  This is one good potato!

Get Cooking!  Okinawan sweet potatoes are delicious no matter how you prepare them, but they should be cooked.  Steam, bake, roast, fry, boil, or pressure-cook them to unlock their sweetness.  Substitute them for regular potatoes in your favorite recipe or for a simple side dish, peel and dice or cut into long wedges, toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven.

Keep Them Fresh:  Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place at home.  Refrigerating them causes their cell structure to change which means they can take longer to cook and may even remain hard in the center.

Did You Know?
sweet potato morning glory

Despite their name, Okinawan sweet potatoes aren’t really potatoes at all.  They’re one of the few edible plants within the Morning Glory flowering plant family!


okinawan sweet potato mash

Sweet Potato Mash
Makes 4 Servings

Fans of sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping will fall in love with this sweet and striking side dish! It’s sure to be a hit with the keiki, too. Who can resist its pretty, purple hue?
  • 1 pound Okinawan sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons Hawaiian honey
  • Pinch salt
  1. Peel sweet potatoes and simmer them in water until they are very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well.
  2. Mash by hand for a chunkier texture, or puree with a mixer for a smooth consistency.
  3. Fold in the sour cream, yogurt, honey and salt to taste.

Note: you can make this a richer dish by adding a pat of butter during the mashing, or keep it healthier by replacing the sour cream with yogurt.

Did you make this recipe?
Let us know how it turned out for you! Share a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #FoodlandEatLocal

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