Also called Satsumaimo, the Japanese Sweet Potato has a skin that is purplish-reddish in color, and its insides are creamy white that turn yellow when cooked. It’s drier and starchier than other sweet potato varieties, and is very creamy, with a lighter, fluffier texture. It has a concentrated natural sweet flavor, with earthy, nutty notes.
The Japanese Sweet Potato, or Satsumaimo, can be used in place of regular sweet potatoes in recipes. It can be used to make sweet potato fries, purees, or as ingredient in casseroles and gratins. It’s also a classic Japanese snack, that is great to eat on its own whether boiled, steamed, or roasted.
The history of sweet potatoes in Japan is one of a journey of names. When they arrived in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) in 1734, they were called Satsuma-imo, because they came from the island of Kyushu, which was the land of the Satsuma Clan. But in Satsuma, they were called Kara-imo, because they came from the country of Kara (modern-day China). It was in Edo that they were cultivated by farmers, and saw the Japanese through many a famine during the Edo period, often as a substitute for rice. The first yakiimo (baked sweet potato) store was said to have opened in Edo in 1793, and was very successful. Sweet potatoes eventually became a staple for the Japanese, and became a very popular food, with food trucks dedicated to selling yakiimo. The rise of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores in the 1970s have caused the number of yakiimo stores to decline, unfortunately, although they can still be found in some places.
Store your Japanese Sweet Potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place, like the pantry or a cupboard. Exposing them to light will cause them to sprout. Avoid storing them in the refrigerator or washing them before storage, as it will introduce moisture to the skin and exacerbate rot.