Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Photos by Shoji Kudaka ()

With the return of fall, grocery stores stock up on sweet potatoes and seasonal snacks with satsuma-imo (sweet potato) flavors. These purple root vegetables are considered the aki no mikaku, or taste of autumn in Japan.

In Okinawa, the obsession with all things sweet potato is deeply intertwined with the history of the islands.

Prior to the crop’s introduction to the mainland, sweet potatoes were first imported to the Ryukyu Kingdom from China in 1605 by Noguni Sokan. Okinawa’s soil, which drained well, was well-suited for the cultivation of the crop.

Today, you’ll find sweet potatoes in many dishes and sweets in Okinawa, including tempura and ice cream.

In particular, beniimo, or red potato, is especially popular. Its vibrant color makes it a great ingredient for many dishes. However, yellow satsuma-imo also proves to be a delicious ingredient you shouldn’t overlook.

A recipe you might enjoy if you’re a sweet potato fan is imokinton. Kinton is a kind of Japanese sweet that molds some paste of food such as satumaimo (sweet potato), ingenmame (kidney beans), and kuri (chestnuts) into a ball shape. As the name suggests, imokinton is rounded balls of sweet potato paste.

According to Shokuiku Daijiten, a website dedicated to health and food, the name “kinton” originally referred to some round sweets imported from China. Some say the original kinton was similar to wonton.

Now, kinton is spelled as “金団.” The letter “金” means gold, and “団” means a group or a block. Since balls in yellow can be associated with fortune, kinton is now recognized as food to be served up for New Year celebrations.

Wagashi Japanese sweets shops also stock imokinton and other varieties like chestnuts and bean-flavored kinton. You may even find kinton perfected by Japanese pastry cooks in the shape of beautiful flowers or fruit.

Although it is too early to celebrate a new year, I decided to try making one because I saw so many yellow sweet potatoes on the shelf at a supermarket in my neighborhood.

The recipe I followed looked simple and easy to understand on paper, but it turned out painstaking in some ways. Pureeing the paste till it gets smooth took a lot of effort. Plus shaping the paste into balls was very challenging as well. My “kinton” ended up having some creases and wrinkles, far from the smooth and beautiful ones you would find at Japanese sweetshops. Nonetheless, the good flavor of my creation was surprising.

The texture felt soft like gelato and the potato’s sweetness wasn’t overwhelming and different from other sugary sweets. Although my presentation of the food was not satisfying, I was happy with my first try of kinton, at least in terms of how it tasted.

If you are an artistic type and confident in your dexterity, I would recommend that you try molding the paste into nice flowers and leaves. Even if not, this is still worth a try since the simple recipe will let enjoy the nice sweetness and possibly bring good luck for fortune.

Imokinton pairs nicely with some green tea and other warm beverages, perfect for welcoming the fall season. Enjoy!

With the return of fall, grocery stores stock up on sweet potatoes and seasonal snacks with satsuma-imo (sweet potato) flavors.



  • Sweet potato (500g)

  • Milk (100cc)

  • Sugar (60g)

  • Butter (80g)

  • Dry Gardenia flower (one piece)

  • Chestnuts to garnish (or sesame, dried fruits, etc.)


1. Peel skin off sweet potatoes and dice them.

2. Soften the diced sweet potatoes by microwaving or boiling them.

3. Boil gardenia in a pot of water.*

4. Mix sweet potatoes, butter and sugar, and then mash (You can also add salt or mirin/sweet cooking rice wine to fine tune the taste).

5. Add in milk and mix ingredients further. Mix in yellow liquid from the boiling gardenia (about two teaspoons or more).

6. Puree the mixture.

7. Pick up some dough and wrap it with saran wrap before forming a ball. Repeat the process until you have made several dough.

8. To finish, top each ball with a garnish. I chose pre-cooked chestnuts.

9. いただきます! (Bon appetite)

*To enhance the yellow color, you can boil gardenia with sweet potatoes in a pot. (If you microwave sweet potatoes, you can boil them in a pot and add in the colored liquid to the mixture of sweet potatoes, butter, and sugar.)

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