Kumara or Sweet Potato

Originating in Central and South America, the sweet potato is thought to have been domesticated more than 5000 years ago. It was first grown as a trailing perennial plant, named Ipomoea Batatas, which is part of the Convolvulaceae (morning glory) family. The sweet potato was introduced into Spain in the 15th Century and was later taken to India, China and Malaysia by Portuguese voyagers. In fact, the sweet potato was often believed to be of Asian origin as cultivation quickly became prolific. Today it among the most important tropical root crops and is grown in many varieties. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) statistics, world production in 2004 was 127 million tonnes. The majority comes from China, with a production of 105 million tonnes from 49,000 km2.

It is easy to see why the sweet potato is so popular around the world; it is very widely grown and one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat.

The sweet potato has many different names around the world. In the United States and other English-speaking countries, it is known as “sweet potato”, in France, “patate douce”, in China “hong shu” (红薯), and in Vietnam, “khoai lang.” In New Zealand it is known by its Maori name, Kumara.

The kumara has a long history of cultivation in New Zealand. Introduced by early Maori settlers arriving from the Pacific Islands over 1000 years ago, it was widely grown throughout New Zealand, especially in the semitropical regions of the North Island. The kumara New Zealanders eat today has evolved from an American variety that grows on a creeping vine. It was imported in the early 1850s and was quickly adopted for its superior size and taste. Now Kumara is the 10th most popular vegetable in New Zealand.

New Zealand kumara are available in red, gold and orange varieties. They each have a different skin and flesh colour, texture and flavour. Red kumara, with red skin, has a creamy white flesh with a firm texture and mellow flavour. The gold-skinned kumara has golden flesh with a soft texture and it is sweeter than red kumara. Orange kumara has orange skin and flesh, a firm texture and the sweetest taste.