Kumara, also known as sweet potato, has a long history of cultivation in New Zealand. It was brought here over a thousand years ago from the Pacific islands by early Maori settlers. They grew several different varieties of ‘bush’ kūmara, which, compared to the varieties we eat today, were very small in size, being no bigger than a finger!
Modern kumara grows on a creeping vine and evolved from a larger American variety with bigger tubers and better taste which was imported in the early 1850s. The majority of kumara is grown in Northland in the Northern Wairoa region where soil type and climatic conditions suit it perfectly.
There are a few different varieties of kumara, however, only three main varieties are found in New Zealand. The most common is the red-skinned, Owairaka Red, which has a creamy white flesh and is sold as Red. Gold kumara, sometimes sold as Toka Toka Gold, has a golden skin and flesh, and a sweeter taste than red. Orange kumara, sometimes sold as Beauregard, has a rich orange flesh and is sweeter than both red and gold.
Kumara is a source of dietary fibre and contains a dietary significant amount of potassium (they are one of the highest potassium-containing vegetables). Kumara is one of the highest carbohydrate containing vegetables so it makes an excellent source of energy. The coloured flesh and skin of kumara supply an array of phytonutrients including phenolic compounds, flavonoids and carotenoids.
Red kumara is a good source of vitamin C and niacin; a source of dietary fibre, thiamin, vitamin B6, manganese and contains a dietary significant amount of potassium.
Gold kumara is a good source of folate, riboflavin, vitamin A and vitamin B6; a source of dietary fibre, niacin, thiamin, copper and magnesium, and contains a dietary significant amount of potassium.
Orange kumara is a good source of vitamin A; a source of dietary fibre, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin C and manganese, and contains a dietary significant amount of potassium.
Kumara should be stored in a cool, dark place that is well ventilated. Do not refrigerate.
Braise, bake, boil, char grill, microwave, roast, steam, stew, stir fry, or stuff. Peel, wash and portion. It is not always necessary to peel kumaras but if leaving skin on always scrub skin well and remove blemishes.
Kumara is very versatile and there are many ways it can be used in a dish. Add to your favourite salad, slice up to make chips, or create a tasty soup.