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Kumara

Ipomoea batatas


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

Long a favourite in New Zealand households, the kumara is both tasty and versatile. Its sweet taste and buttery texture make it popular with both grown-ups and children, and there’s something about a pile of kumara on the side of a Sunday roast that’s distinctly Kiwi.

You’ll usually find three varieties in supermarkets: the red or purple kumara, the orange kumara, and the gold kumara. Of the three, the orange is the sweetest, while the red has the mellowest flavour.

Kumara is packed with nutrients, including folate, beta-carotene (especially the yellow and orange varieties), vitamins C and E, and fibre. It’s relatively low in starch, so is a better choice for dieters than potatoes, but can be used in the same way.

Choose kumara that feel heavy and firm, and have no soft spots. Store kumara as you would potatoes, in a cool dark place.

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History

The kumara probably arrived in New Zealand from Polynesia, with the early Maori, more than 1,000 years ago. Known in most other parts of the world as the sweet potato, it’s native to South America and was domesticated more than 5,000 years ago.

It’s not known how the crop made it to Polynesia – the favourite theory is that Polynesians brought it back from South America around 700AD, and it was then taken to Hawaii and New Zealand. Because the variety is usually grown from cuttings, rather than seeds, it’s unlikely that it spread accidentally.

Sweet potatoes have also been grown in Europe for several hundred years – King Henry VIII of England was particularly fond of them and had supplies imported from Spain.

Uses

Kumara can be used interchangeably with potato – though you might find that their sweetness makes creamy dishes a bit too rich. They’re brilliant roasted with savoury flavours such as garlic and rosemary.

Kumara makes delicious chips – cut them into rectangles or wedges and parboil for five minutes. Toss in salt and olive oil, sprinkle some rosemary on top and bake at 180° for about 30 minutes, or until soft and golden. Serve with aioli.

Orange kumara can also be used to make desserts – try substituting orange kumara in a pumpkin pie recipe, or using it for muffins.

Facts

In the United States, the orange kumara, or sweet potato, is commonly called a yam. The yams we have in New Zealand are completely different.

Never store your kumara in the fridge – as it’s a crop from warm climates, refrigeration will cause it to develop a hard core and it will lose its flavour.



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