Food Spotlight: Sweet, Sweet Potato

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Unlike its cousin the ubiquitous potato, the sweet potato is less commonly the centre of attention. However, the sweet potato is just as versatile as the regular spud, and we think it could use a little more recognition. Although they are similar in name, potatoes and sweet potatoes are not as close as you may think. Sweet potatoes fall into the Convolvulaceae family of plants, sharing its roots with morning glory and water spinach (aka kangkung). Additionally, sweet potatoes contain more fibre and vitamins than normal potatoes.

Know your sweet potato

Originating in either the Central American or Southern American regions, sweet potato spread into the Pacific region around 1000 AD, arriving in places like Hawaii, Polynesia, New Zealand and the Philippine Islands. Thriving in temperate and tropical climates, the sweet potato quickly established itself as one of the staple foods of the Pacific peoples. Around 1594, sweet potatoes were introduced in the Fujian province of China after a major crop failure. Fast track 400 years forward and China is now the world’s number one producer of sweet potatoes.

Buying and storage

Sweet potatoes (or ubi keledek) in Malaysia and Singapore commonly come in two colours: orange and white – although red and purple can be found as well, usually at a higher price. Both varieties have a creamy texture when cooked, and a sweet spicy flavour. Often baked or roasted, sweet potatoes can also be fried or mashed, making them a flexible addition to a meal. When purchasing, look for medium sized tubers with unblemished skin. Even though you will probably be peeling the skin before cooking (it’s tough, but full of fibre), a clean skin is a good indicator that the flesh inside is in good condition. Store your sweet potatoes in a cool, dry dark place for around 3-5 weeks, or in your fridge for between 2-3 months.

Dish up deliciousness

Now, how do you dish up sweet potatoes? Maybe you’ve tried roast sweet potato, or sweet potato fries, both delicious in their own right. Locally, sweet potatoes are usually used as dessert or a sweet snack. Bubur cha cha and kuih keria are prime examples of this. Bubur cha cha is a dessert prepared with pearled sago, sweet potato and yams, bananas and coconut milk, whereas kuih keria is a type of doughnut prepared by mashing sweet potatoes with flour, frying and glazing with sugar syrup.

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