Nani Kore? Beni-imo & Okinawan Yams

CONTRIBUTED BY JOELLE YAMADA

Guess which one is purple inside??

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Hard to tell from the outside, eh?  These two tubers are abundantly available on Okinawa.  One is a sweet potato (beniimo – bottom one) and then other is a yam.  And even if you are someone who says, “I hate sweet potatoes,” you should still give them both a try!  For one, beni-imo is such a great fashion accessory as you will soon see!

You can cook these two tubers in a million different ways.  I’ve boiled them, grilled them, baked them and fried them after using a mandoline to make tiny chip-like slices…

Personally, I prefer the purple beni-imo, but only because it is the MOST stunning color I think I’ve ever seen in my life.  And it’s just fun to eat something so pretty.

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When you see them in the store, it’s actually a little difficult to tell the difference between them (as we saw above).  Sometimes you can tell by looking at either end — to see if it looks dark or light.  But the moment you cut into one or break one open after baking the difference is beautifully obvious.

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My daughter asked me why she had yet to be photographed and featured in her own Nani Kore? post.  After apologizing, I asked if she’d be interested in showcasing the beni-imo for me.  She kindly obliged.

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Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m really obnoxious.  I PINKY promise that I did not dress her in that outfit so that she would MATCH her food.  Just a coincidence!

Really.

I love beni-imo.  Less when it’s smashed all over her high chair and ground into her new shoes.  But generally, I’m in love with it.

If you’ve been on Okinawa for more than 10 minutes, then you’ve also run across various pastry items with what looks like purple fluff inside or layered on top — this too is a derivative of the beni-imo.  And you’ll find ice cream at Big Dip by the same name.  And bags of purple potato chips with a light sprinkling of sugar at the corner store.  Basically, it’s hard to escape the purple stuff around here. In fact, rumor has it (meaning: Wikipedia said) that there is a Miss Beni Imo contest in Yomitan each year.

The Okinawan Yam plays a more subtle role in the local food chain, but can often be found fried as tempura in local restaurants (I think Kitikaisen has this as a speciality).

Nutritionally, both the yams and sweet potatoes are a better choice than the white potato because of a higher fiber content — they are lower on the gylcemic index, therefore better for diabetics.  They both have loads of antioxidants as well.  But due to its purple color (from a something called anthocyanins) the beniimo is thought to have cancer reducing properties.

So what about you?  Do you love them?  Hate them?  Do tell.


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9 Comments
  • June 18, 2012

    Hi, You can buy online the Beni Imo powder on this website http://www.okinawa-shop.jp/en/beni-imo/beni-imo-powder-sweet-purple-potato-p-187

    Have a nice day

    Pierre
    Reply
  • July 14, 2011

    I always fill up on beni-imo when I visit Okinawa. They are delicious!

    Kim
    Reply
  • March 16, 2010

    I found the beni-imo Kit Kats in the main gift shop at Gala Aoiumi in Yomitan. I’m thinking I saw them somewhere else as well, but I don’t remember where — maybe the airport(?) — My favorite Japanese Kit Kat is the macha, but the beni-imo are a lot of fun for the unusualness of them. Good luck — at least need to try them.

    bingata744
    Reply
  • March 13, 2010

    We’ve tried cooking these lots of times, they usually turned out really dry or really fibrous. Finally, our son told us that at their yochien they had wrapped them in wet newspaper, then foil and then cooked them. They used a fire at school, we used our oven for an hour, and it gave the potatos a much moister consistancy. And those unno potatoes at the commissary are to die for too.

    Jennifer
    Reply
  • March 12, 2010

    Where did you buy the beni-imo Kit Kats?

    Reply
  • March 12, 2010

    There was an article in a recent issue of “Our State” magazine from NC with an article about farmers growing the beni imo as a new cash crop and a friend of mine who works at NC State said they have been doing research there on them as well. So, when you go back to the states you might be able to find them. Probably not the ice cream though – that may take a while.

    Jen
    Reply
  • March 12, 2010

    My daughter’s Kindergarten class went this year and dug some beni-imo up, so this is how we first got introduced to them. We made them into some pretty mashed beni-imo, very yummy!!

    Both of my daughters perfer the icecream though.

    Heather D
    Reply
  • March 12, 2010

    Love the beni-imo icecream at Big Dip!

    Mary
    Reply
  • March 12, 2010

    Try the beni-imo Kit Kats too — they have a real beni-imo finish to them. Unfortunately, I don’t think the fiber converted over to the Kit Kat. Fun to try–

    bingata744
    Reply