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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogSweet Potato: The Food of 1000 Uses!

Sweet Potato: The Food of 1000 Uses!

Karina IkedoKarina Ikedo
Published TimeOctober 26, 2022
A baked Japanese sweet potato, cut in half. The skin is maroom and the flesh is yellow.

Satsumaimo, also known as Japanese sweet potato, are starchy, sweet root vegetables with reddish-purple skin and pale yellow to white flesh. Japanese people have long viewed sweet potatoes as being the taste of autumn. 

At this time of year, people harvest Japanese sweet potatoes. As a staple of autumn, it can bring about a sense of nostalgia as well as a reminder of the changing of the seasons!

What Are Japanese Sweet Potatoes? 

Japanese sweet potatoes differ not only in color but also in texture. Japanese sweet potatoes have a particular creaminess and a fluffier, lighter texture that is a little more similar to a regular baking potato than a standard orange one since they are a little drier and starchier than other varieties. In contrast to many other types, they also have a flavor that is very sweet but not overpowering!

Another Japanese sweet potato, except the yellow flesh looks a little shinier.
Sweet potatoes are a staple fall flavor. Image via Shutterstock

In the 16th century, sweet potatoes arrived in China, and in the 17th century, they reached Japan. The sweet potato was introduced to Satsuma Province (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture), which is why it’s called “satsumaimo” in Japanese. Imo is a Japanese term that translates to potatoes. The major portion of its production is still located in the Kagoshima prefecture in Japan!

Sweet potato is not only sweet and delicious, it is also quite nutritious as it is rich in vitamins and dietary fibers. Japanese sweet potatoes differ from American ones in that they are denser and starchier in texture!

Types of Sweet Potatoes

Japanese sweet potatoes come in a wide variety. One of the most popular types is murasaki-imo. Anthocyanin, a chemical substance that occurs naturally, is what gives the murasaki-imo’s vivid purple color!

Deep purple sweet potatoes against a white background.
Purple sweet potatoes are very rare and mostly found in Okinawa. Image via Shutterstock

Murasaki-imo is typically used in manufactured and packaged products because it is not too sweet. A murasaki-imo variation, the “Purple Sweet Road” was nationally registered in 2002. This variant, which is more suited for cooking, was produced by crossbreeding a purple sweet potato from Kyushu with a number of other sweet potato types, including kintoki!

Another well-known type of Japanese sweet potato is naruto kintoki-imo. Tokushima Prefecture, more specifically Naruto City, produces this sweet potato.

This area is perfect for growing sweet potatoes because of its mild climate, low rainfall, and sandy soil rich in ocean minerals. When cooked, the golden inside of the Naruto kintoki-imo, which has a high sugar content, turns soft and fluffy!

Anno Imo are sweet potatoes famous for their bright orange flesh and high sugar content. Anno-imo is grown on the island of Tanegashima in the Kagoshima Prefecture. Due to its high sugar content, it has a sweet flavor. The interior, which starts as pale orange when cooked, becomes bright yellow!

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The Best Sweet Potato Treats

Warm and filling, mildly sweet and comforting, sweet potato makes the perfect fall food. Here is a list of some of our favorite Japanese chips and snacks, chocolate, and sweets that you won’t regret trying!

Calbee Osatsu Chips

These crunchy treats taste much like the real deal. Calbee Osatsu are a nice seasonal treat since they are sweet with just a hint of salty. They are only typically available throughout the fall and winter seasons, just like real sweet potatoes in Japan. These delicious chips tap into the natural sweetness of Japanese sweet potatoes for a light, fluffy snack chip! 

Satsuma-imo and Renkon Chips

Here is an autumnal treat like none other. These crunchy chips combine the salty flavor of lotus roots with the sweet, mild taste of sweet potatoes. But the sweet definitely surpasses the salty. Without the thin crispy texture, you almost wouldn’t know it was a chip because the sweet potato flavor is so powerful!

UHA Satsuma-imo and Murasaki-imo Chips

If there ever was a Japanese treat for the fall and winter, this is it. Sweet potatoes deeply flavor these crunchy chips. Inside, you’ll find a deep flavor of murasaki-imo, combined with the typical sweet potato flavor!

Thick-cut yellow and purple sweet potato chips against a white background.
Sweet potato chips are a tasty and convenient treat! Image via Shutterstock

Although it has a very sweet and little salty flavor, the flavor stands out. They almost feel refined as if they were the fine wine of potato chips.

Takoka White Chocolate Yams

A combination you wouldn’t typically see, these mini white chocolate bites are infused with sweet potatoes. While the mild sweet potato almost makes me think of caramel, the white chocolate is thick and delicious. But you can really taste the sweet potato in the aftertaste. This sweet resembles sweet tiny cubes and literally melt on your tongue!

Sweet Potato KitKat

Japan is famous for having unique KitKat flavors and this sweet potato KitKat is definitely one that you will want to try. There’s a purple Okinawa sweet potato flavored KitKat and a baked sweet potato flavor.

KitKat promises an authentic Japanese flavor covered in white chocolate. Knowing their flavor accuracy, we can probably expect it to even have the slight smokiness beloved Japanese autumn snack offers!

A bag of ssweet potato Kitkats. The bag is orange.
Sweet potato Kitkats are perfect for the fall! Image via Shutterstock

Benimo Sweet Potato Tart

An iconic Okinawa souvenir is the Benimo Sweet Potato Tart. The “Okashi Goten” Sweets Palace, the original shop famous for its confections, is the maker of the tart. The tart’s crisp texture and somewhat sweet benimo paste taste great together!

A row of decorated beniimo tarts. The crust is brown while the the filling is a vivid, swirly, purple.
Beniimo tarts are quite the delicacy! Image via Shutterstock

Produced from mashed purple sweet potatoes that naturally add a deep violet color, Beni-Imo are delightful petite sweet potato delights with a tart base. The rich purple tone comes only from the sweet potatoes of the same color. In fact, it’s the same molecule that gives violet coloring to blueberries and red cabbage!

Yakiimo

The traditional autumn and winter Japanese street food is called yaki imo (baked Japanese sweet potatoes). In Japan, people roast whole sweet potatoes and eat them as a stand-alone street food. Traditionally, yaki imo are sold by small trucks equipped with a stone roasting pot called Ishiyaki Imo, literally stone-roasted-potato! 

These sweet potatoes are at their finest when slowly cooked over a hot stone. A mouthful of a freshly baked yakiimo will explain why; they are creamy and naturally sweet, and even without the addition of butter or salt, they have a very strong flavor and a velvety texture. The inside is creamy with a little caramelized sweetness, and the skin iscrispy and light brown on the edges!

Daigaku-imo

This is still a common snack at many booths and school celebrations today. It was a favorite among university students in Tokyo in the early 1900s. Before being deep-fried, the sweet potatoes are rinsed and chopped into bite-sized pieces!

The sweet potatoes are coated completely with a candy syrup composed of rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and water. Then, black sesame seeds are added as a garnish. This delicious dish has a smooth, buttery feel from the interior and a lovely crunch from the sweet potato skin!

Do you have a favorite sweet potato snack or sweet that you want to try? Let us know in the comments below!

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Karina Ikedo

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