Sweet Potatoes—Winter Vegetables
The season for sweet potatoes is said to be from late autumn to winter. Although potatoes are often used for traditional dishes such as baked sweet potatoes during the cold season, not everyone knows how diverse sweet potatoes are, and the wide variety of sweet potatoes that are available. This time, we will delve into the world of sweet potatoes with the sweet potato farmer Ai Tsukino from Usagi Natural Farm, and cooking specialist Yukiya Terai.
Increasing sweetness with soil at the storehouse
We first learned the basics from Ai Tsukino of Usagi Natural Farm, which grows more than 200 types of vegetables in Koshi, Kumamoto Prefecture.
“The word sweet potato does not start to describe the wide variety of potatoes there are to be found. The level of sweetness differs depending on the type of potato, and how potatoes are cultivated and stored also significantly impacts on the sweetness, which is a lot of fun!”
Usagi Natural Farm plants its seed potatoes at the end of January, and takes time growing three types of sweet potatoes—Beniharuka, Anno sweet potatoes and Purple Sweet—until frost comes in December. After harvest, these potatoes are stored in a storehouse surrounded by soil that maintains a constant temperature. This causes starch saccharification which gradually creates a sweeter flavor, providing very sweet potatoes during January and February.
“Sweet potatoes with a strong sweetness are delicious by themselves—we usually bake them or make tempura or potato chips, as they go very nicely with oil. Some people have concerns about the sugar content in sweet potatoes, but sweet potatoes offer healthy, natural nutrients, so I heartily recommend having them for snacks,” explains Ai.
Sweet potatoes are actually colorful! Use them according to texture
We visited cooking specialist Yukiya Terai to broaden our horizons on sweet potato cooking. Terai engages in various activities from catering to producing restaurants. His cooking has a unique flair and vibrant visuals of which he is known for.
“There are actually many types of sweet potatoes and other potatoes, and these vegetables happen to be very colorful. I enjoy sampling many types to find those I like and use them in my cooking,” says Terai.
According to Terai, there are three major types of sweet potatoes when categorized by texture.
The first is “sticky” type. Sweet-flavored potatoes are often this type, such as the Anno sweet potato, and this type is recommended for baked sweets or baked potatoes.
The second is “moist” type. The sweet potatoes commonly found in stores such as Beniharuka fall under this category. This type holds together better after being mashed, making it perfect for dishes such as potato salads, croquettes and tempura.
The third is “fluffy” type. Variations such as Beniazuma or Kintoki sweet potatoes fall under this category and are recommended for dishes calling for soft, fluffy potatoes such as sweet potato rice.
Having sweet potatoes take over the leading role
What types of dishes come to mind when thinking of having sweet potatoes as a main dish? For this article, we had Terai propose some recipes that will take the leading role in a meal.
“An important point when cooking is to make the most of the sweetness of the potatoes, but not allowing it to become too sweet. I recommend using spices, salty seasonings or other ingredients like onions that add fragrance and some pizazz to a dish, because sweet potatoes themselves do not have a strong fragrance,” says Terai.
This time, Terai taught us how to make a Beniharuka potage, a bicolor Purple Sweet and Anno potato salad, along with a croquette variation of this dish.
Terai works toward making home-cooked meals easier, more fun and colorful. He thinks like Usagi Natural Farm, which focuses on harvesting colorful vegetables and manufactures vegetable seasonings for easy cooking.
“More and more households have both parents working, and everyone is busier now. I believe that the quality of home cooking cannot help but suffer from this. That is why I’d like to make cooking a little more fun, easy and a positive activity to engage in with my recipes,” explains Terai.
The recipes we learned this time offer simple ingredients and processes, despite having very vibrant visuals. Have fun while making them!
Sweet potatoSource：Ai Tsukino, Usagi Natural Farm / Cooking specialist Yukiya Terai
The sweetness of the potatoes is strongest in late December to February
The flavor of potatoes does not differ with size.
It is recommended to choose a potato size that is easiest to cook.
How to enjoy them
・Sticky type (Anno sweet potatoes, etc.): Baked potatoes, ingredients for sweets
・Moist type (Beniharuka, etc.): Potato salads, croquettes, tempura
・Fluffy type (Beniazuma, Kintoki sweet potatoes, etc.): Sweet potato rice