In New Zealand, kumara is an age-old crop which remains a firm favourite – with good reason.
Maori have grown kumara extensively since bringing it to New Zealand over 1000 years ago. They showed great skill cultivating and storing kumara, and managed to control the potentially devastating kumara caterpillar by using tamed black-backed seagulls. The original kumara were very small but in the early 1850s, a larger American variety was quickly adopted for its superior size and flavour. The majority of kumara are grown in Northland where the soil and climate are ideal. In other countries, kumara is known as sweet potato.
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.
About 1/2 cup of boiled kumara (100g ) provides around 300kJ energy, virtually zero fat, 1.8g fibre and small amounts of a wide range of vitamins and minerals. In general, the stronger the colour of a fruit or vegetable, the higher the antioxidant content. This applies to kumara which are generally a good source of a range of antioxidants. Other constituents in kumara have been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-coagulant properties (ie. it stops blood from clotting).
Storage and use
Kumara will retain their flavour and freshness for a week or two after purchase if you keep them in a cool, dark, well ventilated place. Don't store them in the fridge and keep them out of warmer temperatures to avoid sprouting. As with potatoes, if you peel the skin and throw it away, you're throwing away some of the goodness (fibre, vitamins and minerals), so just give kumara a good scrub and trim any bruising or woody bits. Kumara can be used as an alternative in any recipe that uses potatoes. You'll find they generally cook a little quicker than potatoes.
Ways with kumara
- Add to your mashed potato for a nice flavour change.
- Kumara wedges are yummy instead of potato wedges. Slice the kumara, lay them on an oven tray and spray with a little oil. Bake in a hot oven.
- Layer sliced kumara with onion slices and garlic in a baking dish. Pour over a little milk and bake in a hot oven for a kumara gratin.
- Kumara makes a delicious soup, especially if you add some curry spices.
- Kumara, boiled and cooled, is a good salad base. Toss kumara pieces with a dressing made from sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and sesame oil. Toss coriander leaves through the salad.