The Okinawan Sweet Potato: A Purple Powerhouse of Nutrition

by Tracy Ternes

Did you know that Okinawan sweet potatoes were recently highlighted by Dr. Oz as being one of the top Superfoods of 2010?1

This vibrantly purple sweet potato, a locally grown staple of Hawaiian cuisine, is rich in flavor and packed with nutritional benefits. With Okinawan sweet potatoes in abundance this time of year, they make the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving meal.

The Okinawan sweet potato is not related to the potato but is actually in the morning glory family. Native to the Americas, it was brought to Japan sometime between 1492 and 1605. The hardy plant grew well in Japan and quickly became popular in a variety of Japanese dishes.2 When it eventually made its way to the Hawaiian Islands, brought by the Polynesians, the crop flourished in the rich volcanic soil.3

Sweet potatoes of all varieties are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. They are also a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron. Sweet potatoes are known to improve blood sugar regulation and some studies have discovered significant antibacterial and antifungal properties. The primary nutritional benefit, and the one for which Okinawan sweet potatoes are especially prized, is their high antioxidant levels.4

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.5 Blueberries are well known for their high antioxidant levels, however, the Okinawan sweet potato actually has 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries.6 Antioxidants help to guard against cardiovascular disease and cancer.

How nice to find out that such a creamy and delicious vegetable, a staple in many Hawaiian homes, is so nutritious as well! Add a splash of color and a healthy dose of antioxidants to your Thanksgiving table. One easy way is to substitute regular potatoes with Okinawan sweet potatoes when making mashed potatoes this holiday season. Use all the same ingredients you would use with mashed potatoes. You can also cut down on cholesterol with this tasty mashed sweet potato recipe:

Mashed Okinawan Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:
3 lbs. Okinawan sweet potatoes
1 can of coconut milk
cinnamon powder to taste
salt to taste

    Preparation:
  1. Peel the Okinawan sweet potatoes and chop into 1 inch cubes.
  2. Boil potatoes for 30 minutes or until soft (will turn dark purple), then drain.
  3. Mash the purple potatoes while adding in coconut milk and cinnamon powder to taste. Add sea salt to taste if desired.
  4. Makes 12 servings.
Footnotes: 
  1. "5 Superfoods to eat now." 10 2 2010. The Dr. Oz Show. 4 Nov 2011
  2. Smith, S.E. "What are Okinawan Sweet Potatoes?" 18 July 2011. Wise Geek. 4 November 2011
  3. Vanaman, Bonnie. "Okinawan Sweet Potato Nutrition." 11 August 2011. Livestrong.com. 4 11 2011
  4. "Sweet Potatoes." 2010. The Worlds Healthiest Foods. 4 Nov 2011
  5. Lim, Soyoung. "K-State Researcher Studies the Anti-Cancer Capabilities of a Specila Purple Sweet Potato." 9 June 2009. Kansas State University. 4 Nov 2011
  6. Vanaman, Bonnie. "Okinawan Sweet Potato Nutrition." 11 August 2011. Livestrong.com. 4 11 2011

© 2014 Down to Earth Organic & Natural

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