This purple plant puts meaning to the saying, "eat the rainbow."

By Melanie Fincher
September 03, 2020
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You don't find a lot of white or beige food in nature. Produce comes in a rainbow of colors, and there's no better example of this than purple sweet potatoes.

Yes, you read that right. Potatoes can be purple! And it's completely natural — no dyes or artificial colorings. Intrigued? Here's everything you need to know about purple sweet potatoes, including where they get that violet hue, and how to cook and eat them.

Where Do Purple Sweet Potatoes Come From?

If you're already surprised to learn that purple sweet potato exists, let's complicate things even further: There's more than one type of purple sweet potato, too. And each type comes from a different place. Here are some of the main varieties to know: 

Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes 

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Stokes Purple® sweet potatoes were born right here in the United States. Named after their birthplace, Stokes County, North Carolina, Stokes Purple® sweet potatoes are now grown in the sandy soil of central California. 

Mike Sizemore, a sweet potato farmer in North Carolina cultivated the sweet potatoes and later obtained a patent for them in 2006. Stokes Purple® sweet potatoes have been described as having a mildly sweet, floral taste. Their flesh is a deep purple and their skin has a light, purple hue.

Okinawan and Molokai Sweet Potatoes 

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Today, Hawaii boasts two popular purple sweet potato varieties: Okinawan and Molokai. Okinawan sweet potatoes ($16; Amazon) are believed to have originally come from the Aztecs. The Spaniards then brought them to the Philippines, and then to China in the 1490s. Sometime during the 1600s, the potatoes made their way to Okinawa, the southern island of Japan. 

Okinawan sweet potatoes were soon cultivated throughout the country, and eventually made their way to Hawaii. Today, Okinawan sweet potatoes, sometimes known as Hawaiian Sweet Potatoes, are a part of the native menu in Hawaii

Okinawan sweet potatoes have a beige outer skin and a deep, blue-purple flesh. They have a mildly sweet flavor, and a very dry, starchy texture. 

The Molokai variety, like the Stokes Purple®, is a relatively new development. These deep purple sweet potatoes were developed by the Decoite family of Molokai, Hawaii in 1978. Today the variety is still only grown on the island of Molokai, but it's beginning to receive attention from chefs and restaurants throughout Hawaii.

Why Are They Purple?

Nope, they're not dyed. The purple color is completely natural. It comes as a result of an antioxidant called anthocyanin, the same antioxidant responsible for the color of the color of red cabbage, red wine, and purple cauliflower

What Do They Taste Like?

It depends on the variety, but in general, purple sweet potatoes are mildly sweet, and almost wine-like in taste. They tend to be much drier and starchier than traditional sweet potatoes. For this reason, purple sweet potatoes are often cooked for longer than traditional sweet potatoes.

Purple Sweet Potatoes Nutrition and Benefits

We've already established that the pigment in purple sweet potatoes comes from an antioxidant. But purple sweet potatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. And like regular sweet potatoes, they have a low glycemic index, making them a good option for a diabetic diet.

Where to Buy Purple Sweet Potatoes 

Stokes Purple® sweet potatoes are available for the majority of the year — late August through late spring. Okinawan sweet potatoes on the other hand are available year round. Molokai sweet potatoes are available in late spring and early summer, but you'll be hard pressed to find them if you don't live in Hawaii. 

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find purple sweet potatoes at a commercial grocery store. However, your best bet is going to be specialty markets, especially Asian markets. The Okinawan variety can be bought online in bulk as well.

How to Cook and Eat Purple Sweet Potatoes 

Purple sweet potatoes can be used in many of the same ways as orange and white potatoes, you'll just have to increase the cooking time to make up for their dense, dry flesh. Looking for recipe inspiration? Try making these mashed purple sweet potatoes that are made with just four ingredients. 

Purple sweet potatoes are common in Asian cuisine as well — give these Chinese purple sweet potato cakes a try. And fans of sweet potato pie need to try this purple twist on the classic recipe.

How to Store Purple Sweet Potatoes

You may store purple sweet potatoes the same way you store regular potatoes: in a cool, dry place. But keep in mind that they have a shorter lifespan than regular potatoes. Purple sweet potatoes will last between one to two weeks when stored in a cool, dry place — one that's warmer than the fridge temperature and cooler than room temperature. 

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