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Island eats: Sweet potato, sweet potahto

Okinawan sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods. Having grown up in Hawaii, there was an abundance of them commonly found on dinner tables, menus and at luaus. But here in New York they’ve made their way onto my Most Wanted but Hard to Find List.

On my way home from the city last week I stopped at an Asian grocery store in Queens (a city tradition to get what I can’t find out here) and was thrilled to find them. You can cook them like any potato (surprise!) — roasted, mashed,  diced, or as french fries.

I’ve even used them for gnocchi but my favorite is Okinawan sweet potato pie. You may be thinking about yellow sweet potatoes and yams, but these ones are a deep purple with a light gray outer skin and denser flesh. 

In Hawaii they’re called uala, the name I gave to my favorite chicken, a La Flèche hen who was a lavenderish-gray. 

According to alongerhealthylife.com, the Okinawan sweet potato is actually part of the morning glory family. Native to the Americas, the “Okinawan” sweet potato was brought to Japan between 1492 and 1605 and after World War II, and became a staple of the native survivors left on the island of Okinawa because it was such a hardy crop.

When it eventually made its way to the Hawaiian Islands, brought by the Polynesians, the crop flourished in the rich volcanic soil. Dr. Oz recently dubbed them one of the top superfoods.

They are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. They are also a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron. Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index and are known to improve blood sugar regulation and some studies have discovered significant antibacterial and antifungal properties.

The primary nutritional benefit, and the one for which Okinawan sweet potatoes are especially prized, is their high antioxidant levels. The antioxidant known as anthocyanin is the pigment which is responsible for the brilliant purple color of the flesh. It is the same pigment that gives blueberries, red grapes and red cabbage their color, but the potatoes have 150% more antioxidants.

Due to high sugar content, keep dry in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place at home. Refrigerating them causes their cell structure to change which means they can take longer to cook and may even remain hard in the center. 


3-4 lbs. Okinawan sweet potatoes

1 can of coconut milk

Cinnamon powder to taste

Maple syrup or honey, or no added sweetener 


1. Peel and chop the potatoes.

2. Steam until soft but firm.

3. Blend the potatoes in a food processor.

4. Add in coconut milk slowly, you won’t need the whole can because the mix needs to remain very thick. 

5. Add cinnamon powder and/or sweetener to taste. 

6. Pour into pie crust. 

7. Feel free to top with coconut cream or whipped cream.

Pie crust ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup frozen butter

4 to 8 tablespoons ice water


1. Grate butter into flour

2. Add ice water.

3. Roll out dough and place in pie dish.

4. To feel a little fancy, flute the edges with your fingers.