Purple Power: Okinawan Sweet Potato

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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.

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