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Purple Power: Okinawan Sweet Potato

Posted March 31, 2017, 11:30 AM HST Updated April 3, 2017, 06:26 AM HST

Okinawan sweet potato. UH at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources photo.

Okinawan sweet potatoes are actually not a potato but a distant cousin that belongs to the morning glory family.

Because of its name,  it is easy to assume that this potato originally came from Okinawa, but it is actually native to Central America.

It made its way to the Okinawa region of Japan via global travelers sometime between 1492 and 1605.

It quickly became a savior to the Okinawan people who constantly had their food crops threatened or completely destroyed by frequent typhoons.

The hardiness of the plant enabed it to withstand the harsh storms and thus provided a reliable source of food for the people of the area. It allowed them to not only survive—but thrive.

This amazing purple potato is now being partially attributed as the reason why Okinawa has one of the highest numbers of people who live past the age of 100 in the whole world.

The Polynesians introduced this plant to the Hawai‘i and it has flourished in the islands’ rich volcanic soils.

Today, it is commonly grown here, both commercially and residentially.

It can easily be found in almost all grocery stores, as well as farmers markets throughout the state.


It can be found gracing the tables of simple family dinners and huge lū‘au.

It is also used as the basis of culinary dishes created by some of the islands’ greatest chefs.

The Okinawan sweet potato is reported to have 150% more antioxidants than blueberries, which are known for their high levels.

Freshly harvested Okinawan sweet potatoes. Darde Gamayo photo.

The antioxidant anthocyanin is the pigment which is responsible for the distinctive purple color of the flesh of the potato. It is the same pigment that gives red grapes, red cabbage and blueberries their color.

Studies have found that significant antibacterial and antifungal properties can be found in these sweet potatoes. It has also been found to improve the way the body regulates blood sugar.

Unleash their delicious creamy flavor by steaming, baking, roasting, frying, boiling or pressure-cooking them. They can be a great substitute for regular potatoes in your favorite potato salad recipe. Mashed, they provide not just an alternative to the traditional potato, but add a vibrant color to your plate.

Looks can be deceiving; These whitish innocent-looking potatoes provide some purple power that even a superhero would be envious of.

Give them a try next time you need to boost your super powers.

Darde Gamayo
Darde Gamayo wen graduate from Honoka'a High & Intermediate in 1986. Her also known as “Tita Nui,” cause her one tita en her is nui. Her is da winna of da 2009 Ms. Aloha Nui Contess. Which is wat wen help her get her da job on da numba 1 rayjo station on dis island, KAPA Rayjo! Her is da weeken mid day DJ. You can catch her on KAPA from 6 p.m. to midnight Mondayz true Fridayz. Her is one blhog writah fo da BigIslandNow.com. Her write bout all kine stuffez, like how da mongoose wen come hea, wat collah da sand on da beach, pineapple in yo food and wat eva kine stuff her tink of. Her get choken udda stuff her like fo do like, write, read, go fishin' and her love to cook too... And wen you look at her you no she like fo eat, too! Her stay livin in Waipi‘o Valley with her honey, Darren, and the rest of their ‘ohana.

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Joanne Lorensen Love itMarch 31, 2017 01:03pm
Larry Osburn Potato salad is so nice all summer longMarch 31, 2017 01:16pm
Janet A Vehemente Yummmmm! ☺☺👍👍🇬🇧🇬🇧👣👣March 31, 2017 01:39pm
Nancy Walker Catherine Robinson NortonMarch 31, 2017 02:15pm
Connie Chadwick Julienne Irwin have you tried these? Are they really 'sweet' like the traditional sweet potatoes? I've had the smaller darker purple potatoes (from Trader Joes), but they taste like a traditional potato.March 31, 2017 09:15pm
Julienne Irwin No, they're not as sweet as a regular sweet potato which is a good thing. They're really yummy!March 31, 2017 09:24pm
Jon Moura On when can I get some in Kona?March 31, 2017 09:31pm
Jill Morse Kupitz Had them for dinner this evening. Delish! Connie I'd say they're not quite as sweet as a traditional sweet potato, but definitely not like the small purple potatoes like Trader Joe's sells. They have a sticky white substance that seeps out of them when you cut them too. It's normal, so don't be scared. And they don't stay sticky after you cook them.March 31, 2017 10:15pm
Kelly Vitorino I bake the with coconut syrup and put Mac nuts on topMarch 31, 2017 10:27pm
Cynthia Crompton Morse My favorite part of a luau.April 01, 2017 02:17pm
Linda S Wilbourn LoveApril 02, 2017 04:04am
April Queja If you can't find it at a farmers market try any KTA grocery storeApril 03, 2017 10:02am
Jon Moura Tyvm going this weekApril 03, 2017 12:52pm

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