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Types of kūmara, plus how to store, prep and cook them.

Kūmara season in NZ:  

Purple Dawn Large Available year round 
Purple Dawn Baby: Available year round 

The Polynesian ancestors of Maori brought kūmara plants with them when they arrived in New Zealand back in the 13th century. It is however rumoured that the Polynesians originally took the kūmara from South America. Kūmara, which is also known as sweet potato, is now a staple food for Kiwis as it is such a versatile vegetable in the kitchen. Unlike potato, kūmara are not from the nightshade family, making them a perfect replacement for those with nightshade allergies.

Baked kumara

Main types of New Zealand kūmara

Kūmara are still grown in Northland and the Northern Wairarapa region where the soil type and climate seems to suit them. We grow four different varieties of kūmara which are generally defined by their colour - red, orange, purple and gold. They have a natural sweetness and can be cooked together to create a roast vegetable medley.

1. Red kūmara - Owairaka Red

Red kūmara (Owairaka) is NZ's best known kūmara and is regarded as a culinary icon. It has a deep red skin and a firm creamy white flesh with red veins. Red skinned kūmara are an incredibly robust variety, which make them perfect for salads or roasting and make outstanding Kūmara wedges. They are a healthy substitute for potatoes and can be cooked in similar ways.

2. Orange kūmara - Beauregard

The sweetest kūmara is the orange kūmara, otherwise known as sweet potatoes in many countries, due to the sweetness of its rich orange flesh and edible bright orange skin. Orange skinned kūmara are rich in beta carotene and perfect as one of your five a day. Beauregard take less time to cook than other kūmara and have a lighter texture, making them the best substitute for mashed potatoes and pumpkin. They can be spiralized into soba noodle salads, substituted for spaghetti and roasted in the oven where its naturally sweet flavour caramelises for a knockout roast vege salad.

3. Purple Dawn kūmara

Purple Dawn is a newer kūmara variety, featuring a purple skin and purple flesh. Purple vegetables are known to be superior nutritionally and purple kūmara doesn't disappoint. It contains anthocyanin which has anticancer and anti inflammatory benefits and prevents cardiovascular disease. Purple kūmara has a more earthy taste than the sweeter varieties. and is perfect for roasting and mashing.

4. Gold kūmara - TokaToka Gold

TokaToka gold kūmara are an indigenous New Zealand variety and are named after Dargavilles' TokaToka Peak in Northland, close to where they are grown. Gold kūmara have a golden skin, surrounding gold colored flesh that's the same light, fluffy texture as Beauregard varieties. They are sweeter than red kūmara but not as sweet as orange. We recommend you bake or roast gold kūmara for the best results.


Tips for buying and storing kūmara

Kumara chips

After harvesting, kūmara are stored for several months to allow time for their starch to naturally convert to sugar giving them their sweetness.

  • When buying kūmara, you should buy no more than one week's supply, as they are best eaten shortly after being freshly picked.
  • Look for a firm vegetable with unbroken skin.
  • Kūmara have a knobbly irregular shape, so if you intend to peel them, try to select the smoothest shaped vegetables.
  • Kūmara should never be refrigerated as they will shrivel and decay. They prefer instead to be stored in a cool, well ventilated, dark place.
  • Kūmara are sensitive to ethylene so keep away from ethylene producing fruits and vegetables.

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Preparing and cooking kūmara

Kūmara are a very versatile vegetable, which can be added to most cooking recipes in place of potatoes, pumpkin and root vegetables. You can bake, roast, boil and air fry kūmara and add chunks to your casserole, stew and curry recipes.

Vegetarian burgers

Here are some other ideas for adding more kūmara into your diet:

  • Sweet potato skins are safe to eat and boost their nutritional value as they are a good source of fibre. If you plan to keep the skins on kūmara, scrub them well to remove any blemishes.
  • Sweet potatoes baked in the oven are hard to beat, when topped with some sour cream and chopped chives.
  • Thinly shaved kūmara make wonderful chips. Dip into your kūmara dip!
  • Thicker cut kūmara wedges can be oven baked in place of fries.
  • Replace the top of your shepherd's pie with kūmara mash, for a sweeter taste and more flavour.
  • Grate kūmara to make a kūmara rosti by combining finely diced leek and onion, with egg and seasoning. Then fry in a little olive oil and serve with crisp streaky bacon.
  • Make this delicious roast vegetable medley to accompany chicken and lamb. Leftovers can be added to a salad the following day.
  • Chicken pairs well with kūmara in this delicious chicken and kūmara pie

Health benefits of kūmara

Kūmara are a good source of dietary fibre which improves digestion and gut health. They are one of the highest vegetable carbohydrate sources, needed to boost energy. As long as you hold back on the butter when mashing they are virtually fat free. Rich colored kūmara flesh and skin provide phytonutrients, which help prevent cell damage reducing the risk of heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer's Disease and cancer. Anthocyanin found in the distinctive red skin and purple varieties, can fight inflammation and boost the immune system. Orange and gold kūmara are rich in beta carotene which strengthens the immune system and improves skin and eye health.

Sweet and colourful kūmara

These four wonderfully colourful kūmara will add variety, texture and flavour to your weekly family meals. Now you know how healthy they are to eat, we hope you will enjoy them even more. Find out more about seasonal fruits and vegetables here.

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