What's that?! Beni-imo and Okinawan yams

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What's that?! Beni-imo and Okinawan yams

by: Joelle Yamada | .
Okinawa Hai.com | .
published: January 17, 2013

Guess which one is purple inside??

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.

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.

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.

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.

Okinawa Hai website