My journey to the Okinawan sweet potato

I made a commitment 2 months ago to enter a figure competition on Oahu called the Paradise Cup, which will take place on October 20th, 2012.  Being involved in sports and athletics was a normal part of my childhood so I was always in decent physical shape.  After I graduated from high school and my participation in organized sports declined, I eventually fell into a slump of eating unhealthy foods and neglecting a normal workout routine.  I finally got to a point where I needed to set a goal and make a change to avoid continuing down a path of personal destruction.  Since I've always been into running and ran the Honolulu Marathon 5 consecutive times, I yearned for a different kind of challenge.  Entering a figure competition seemed like the perfect combination of a new physical and mental challenge that I was looking for.  The most important thing I have learned since I started my training is discipline and consistency when making meal choices.  After all, eating healthy and exercising go hand in hand.  My trainer sent me a list of foods to focus on and one of those foods that I've grown to love and appreciate is the Okinawan sweet potato.  I remember enjoying it as a child and now I can't imagine not having it as a normal staple in my diet.  Not only is it very tasty, but also healthy and full of nutrients.

What is Okinawan sweet potato?

Okinawan sweet potato is a crop that is native to the Americas and was introduced to Hawaii by the voyaging Polynesians who migrated from Polynesia.  It is distinguishable by its light brown skin and lavender purple flesh.  Okinawan sweet potato has become a popular staple in Hawaii and grows well in the rich volcanic soil on the Big Island. 

What are the health benefits?

It was highlighted as one of the 5 Superfoods to Eat Now by Dr Oz in 2010.  They are an excellent source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.  The antioxidants these potatoes contain are known to cut your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer.  They are also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, copper, manganese, potassium, and iron.  Since it ranks low on the glycemic index scale, it is also used to treat diabetes.

Where can I get some?

If you live in Hawaii, Okinawan sweet potato is found in most local grocery stores or farmers markets. For those of you who live on the mainland, check your local asian markets or Chinatowns. They are available all-year round, but peak season runs from September to the end of the year.  The potatoes range in size, but when selecting them make sure there is no browning or bruising.  They should smell fresh and be crisp when you cut them.  Store them in a cool, dry place and use them as soon as possible. Okinawan sweet potatoes have a sweet, creamy taste and can be boiled, fried, baked, roasted, or grilled.  My favorite way to prepare the potatoes is to boil it until it is fork tender and cut it into slices after it cools.   They are a tasty snack on the go or serve as a flavorful side dish at the dinner table.  The are many recipes and dishes you can experiment with.  Here is a simple recipe to start your experience with the spud we love here in Hawaii.