When New Zealand gave two young Chinese refugees citizenship in the 1940’s they found an unlikely way to return the gift - by saving the almighty kumara.
Director: Felicity Morgan-Rhind, Producer: Arani Cuthbert
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|Sweet potatoes with different skin colors|
So what, you may ask, is a kumara? It’s a sweet potato, of which there are many kinds. Come explore the linguistic curlicues of this root vegetable…
In some parts of the English-speaking world, sweet potatoes are locally known by other names, including yam and kumara.
Although the soft, orange sweet potato is often called a "yam" in parts of North America, the sweet potato is botanically very distinct from a genuine yam (Dioscorea), which is native to Africa and Asia and belongs to the monocot family Dioscoreaceae. To add to the confusion, a different crop plant, the oca (Oxalis tuberosa, a species of wood sorrel), is called a "yam" in many parts of Polynesia, including New Zealand. The United States Department of Agriculture requires that the label "yam" always be accompanied by "Sweet Potato" in U.S. retail sales of sweet potato.
|Purple yam freshly harvested and sliced for cross-sectional view.|
Although the sweet potato is not closely related to the common potato, they have a shared etymology. The first Europeans to taste sweet potatoes were members of Christopher Columbus's expedition in 1492. Later explorers found many varieties under an assortment of local names, but the name which stayed was the indigenous Taino name of batata. The Spanish combined this with the Quechua word for potato, papa, to create the word patata for the common potato. The first record of the name "sweet potato" is found in the Oxford English Dictionary of 1775.
|Purple Sweet potato variety in full bloom, in Earth100's farm, in Hong Kong, on the morning October 27, 2012.|
In Argentina, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic the sweet potato is called batata. In Mexico, Peru, Chile, Central America, and the Philippines, the sweet potato is known as camote (alternatively spelled kamote in the Philippines), derived from the Nahuatl word camotli.
In Peru, the Quechua name for a type of sweet potato is kumar, strikingly similar to the Polynesian name kumara and its regional Oceanic cognates (kumala, umala, 'uala, etc.), which has led some scholars to suspect an instance of Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact.
In New Zealand, the most common variety is the Red (purple) cultivar, and is called kumara, a name derived from the Māori name kūmara, but orange (Beauregard) and gold varieties are also available. Kumara is particularly popular as a roasted food or in contemporary cuisine, as kumara chips, often served with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. Occasionally, shops in Australia will label the purple variety "purple sweet potato" to denote its difference to the other varieties. About 95% of Australia's production is of the orange variety named "Beauregard", originally from North America, known simply as "sweet potato". A reddish-purple variety, Northern Star, is 4% of production and is sold as kumara.
In Japan, both sweet potatoes (called "satsuma-imo") and true purple yams (called "daijo" or "beni-imo") are grown. Boiling and steaming are the most common cooking methods. Also, the use in vegetable tempura is common. Daigaku-imo is a baked sweet potato dessert. Because it is sweet and starchy, it is used in imo-kinton and some other traditional sweets, such as ofukuimo. Shōchū, a Japanese spirit normally made from the fermentation of rice, can also be made from sweet potato, in which case it is called imo-jōchū. Imo-gohan, sweet potato cooked with rice, is popular in Guangdong, Taiwan and Japan. It is also served in nimono or nitsuke, boiled and typically flavored with soy sauce, mirin and dashi.
Imomeigetsu, also known as Tsukimi, is a Japanese festival honoring the beauty of autumn moon. Sake and sweet potatoes are offered to the moon, with prayers for an abundant harvest. Dishes made of sweet potato are ubiquitous. Shown here is Tsukimi dango.