Time for a quick quiz: what’s long, purple and grows underground? Perhaps you’re thinking carrot, or maybe a mutant burrowing eggplant. But what about a sweet potato? I’ve grown a lot of different veggies over the years, but never one like this. And thanks to our friend and fellow MG Carla, the purple sweet potato is going to be on the 2013 garden plan here at Happy Acres.
Carla picked up her sweet potatoes at a market in North Carolina several years ago. She brought them home and cooked them, and liked them so much she decided to try growing them herself. Since then, she has been unable to find anything exactly like them in stores or in gardening catalogs. She has no idea what variety they might be, so we have now christened them Carla’s Purple!
To be sure, purple sweet potatoes aren’t exactly new. The Okinawa types, which have white or tan skin and purple flesh, were developed by Japanese growers and have been popular there for several centuries. They also made their way to Hawaii, where several million pounds are grown annually for local use and for export to the mainland. And Daphne at Daphne’s Dandelions grew one called Korean Purple last year, but I believe it had purple skin and white flesh.
The purple sweet potatoes that Carla grows look nothing like the Okinawan types or Korean Purple, and have a purple skin and flesh. It is still likely an Asian variety of some sort. Over the years Japanese breeders have come up with quite a few purple fleshed varieties that are available to gardeners and commercial growers. The purple color is the result of anthocyanins, which is a group of pigments that give red, blue and purple colors to many of our fruits, vegetables and flowers. They also have powerful antioxidant properties, so these beauties should be good for us as well as tasty to eat.
I’ll wait until early April to start sprouting the sweet potatoes to make slips. You can start slips by suspending the sweet potato in water until it roots, or by rooting in soil with some bottom heat applied. At this point I’m not sure which method I will use. I might even try it both ways for comparison. I don’t usually plant sweet potatoes here until the first of June, after the soil is thoroughly warmed up.
I am looking forward to trying these purple beauties here this year, and with any luck we’ll be seeing purple here this fall!
UPDATE: Carla sent me a photo of the sweet potatoes that show how purple they are inside. I’ll post it below. Thanks Carla for the photo and for the sweet potatoes!