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The ‘Uala: Hawaiian Sweet Potato

August 15, 2010

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to make a decent post. I’ve been studying lately, since I’m scheduled to take an exam on Wednesday. I’ve decided that it’s time to take a break from all the studying, so I’m going to now pay proper tribute to the wonderful food that has been fueling my brain over this otherwise painful period: the ‘uala, or Hawaiian sweet potato, which is also known as the Okinawan potato, or purple potato.

I’ve heard these tubers being called yams, but they are actually sweet potatoes. There is a difference between the sweet potato and the yam, but I don’t want to bore anybody with the scientific jargon since ultimately this is a food blog and we just want to know what things taste like!

Sweet potatoes tend to be sweeter in taste and have at least one tapered end, resembling the gradually thinning radius you get on a cone filled with soft-serve ice cream.

On the other hand, yams have a starchier taste (think taro), and tend to be longer and more cylindrical in shape, without ends that come to a sharp point, sort of like a long and fat sausage.

Sweet potatoes are extremely good for those who love the sweet taste of food, but have blood sugar problems such as those caused by diabetes. Sweet potatoes are actually healthier than regular potatoes, and have large doses of Vitamin A, a good amount of Vitamin C, and a lot of fiber. For bonus points, the purple variety of sweet potato contains antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanin is one of the rarer antioxidants that are only found in purple-colored fruit and vegetables such as blueberries, and are actually more plentiful within purple sweet potatoes than blueberries, per serving. The skin can be eaten, which is also a really good source of fiber, and the tuber itself can be stored for a long time in a cool dry area, up to even several months!

To prepare sweet potatoes, one can do several things. I’ve baked, steamed, and microwaved them before, but in all honesty the healthiest way to prepare them is through steaming because there is less chance for the exterior to get burnt. The microwaving method works best for really hungry people or the lazy ones who want to pop them in and not worry about them until they feel like it. Baking sweet potatoes requires the most time, effort, and electricity, but it does create a really crisp and chewy exterior for snacking enjoyment or for easy peeling. I have written the cooking instructions for the three methods below for small- to medium-sized sweet potatoes:

For steaming:
(1) Wash the sweet potatoes and place them in a steamer basket above a pot of water. If you prefer a faster steaming time, you can cut them into chunks or slices.
(2) Bring the water to a boil and continue to cook the potatoes on low heat for 30 minutes. If you chose to cut the potato up, reduce the time to 20 minutes.
(3) After cooking, prick the sweet potatoes with a sharp object, such as a fork or chopstick, to see if they are done. If it goes through without too much difficulty, they are finished. If the texture has the consistency of a water chestnut, cook for another 5-10 minutes.
(4) Take the sweet potatoes out of the steamer basket and let cool for several minutes before serving.

For baking:
(1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
(2) Wash sweet potatoes. Toss them in oil if a very crispy skin is preferred, along with salt and/or pepper. If you like fluffy sweet potatoes, prick the sides several times with a fork.
(3) Place them on a baking tray and allow them to bake for 40 minutes.
(4) Take out the tray and test to see if the potato is fully cooked. Prick the sweet potatoes with a sharp object, such as a fork or chopstick, to see if they are done. If it goes through without too much difficulty, they are finished. If the texture has the consistency of a water chestnut, bake for another 5-10 minutes.
(5) After they are finished, let sit to cool for several minutes before serving.

For microwaving:
(1) Wash sweet potatoes. Prick several times with a fork.
(2) Wrap each of the sweet potatoes with a wet paper towel and place in the microwave. I recommend maximum 4 sweet potatoes at a time.
(3) Microwave for 5 minutes. Check to see if it is finished cooking by pricking with a fork or knife or chopstick. If it is too hard, microwave for an additional 2 minutes.
(4) Let stand for several minutes after cooking before serving.

These are the perfect snack because you can eat them with your hands, are healthy, and are easily stored if you cook them in large batches. I won’t suggest keeping them in the fridge longer than a week, provided that they are stored soon after cooking and covered with a lid or plastic wrap.

Anyway, I’ll be going back to studying. I hope everyone is enjoying what is left of their summer! I sure will be after this exam!

Dai Dai

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10 Comments
  1. Purple potato how crazy is that!… It would look amazing on a salad though!

  2. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick
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    • Thanks for the heads up. It looks fine in my version of IE. What version do you have?

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  5. kopi luwak permalink

    I’m not sure exactly why but this website is loading extremely slow for me.

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  6. Excellent information, I have been trying to find this info for a while. I also see the purple outside potatoes, but the woman in the KTA said they are actually potatoes, not sweet potatoes. Mahalo!

    • I’m not exactly sure how the ‘uala is classified, but I like to call it a sweet potato because it both sweet and slightly stringy. I’m going to look into that!

  7. Erin permalink

    Thank you. Steamed and added sugar and cinnamon. Did not love the actual taste of the vegetable but with sugar was better!

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