Friday, 29 January 2016
Toka Toka Gold, Purple Flesh, & Owairaka Sweet Potatoes
These sweet potato varieties are ones that I bought last year as slips from Burt's Greenhouses, near Kingston, and grew in our garden. This was the first and therefore only year I've grown them, and so I note that my observations about their growing habits may or may not apply in subsequent years. It was a reasonably warm year, so we did not keep them covered with plastic as much as we have some years, but perhaps not hot enough for really optimal growth without it.
I bought 25 mixed cuttings, and Brian Burt was kind enough to set up a way to order them without any Georgia Jets, since I already had my own stock of that. The rooted cuttings we received were small but healthy, and settled in rapidly. I'm always a bit horrified by how puny sweet potato cuttings look when they arrive, but I've come to realize it's a mistake to let them get too large and rooty before they get planted out - that just creates a mass of skinny, tangled, unusable tubers. Cuttings with just 2 or 3 good little rootlets are ideal. They need to be planted with the rootlets spread out as straight as possible too, in order to have any hope of getting straightish tubers.
As you listen to me whine about the quantity produced by each variety, keep in mind that only Georgia Jet is known to be even a fair producer in most Canadian conditions; certainly in mine.
Toka Toka Gold
Of all the sweet potatoes I have grown thus far (admittedly only five) this is my favourite. The flesh is dense, sweet, and almost nutty in flavour. The texture really makes these for me, being very noticeably denser and drier than most; they remind me a bit of my beloved Boniato from Cuba. Unfortunately these were not big producers for us. That may be typical of drier-fleshed sweet potatoes. Burt's describes them as later than Georgia Jet, which in a short season means smaller and fewer tubers.
Fortunately, they had a distinct look to them. Apart from the Purple Flesh, all the other sweet potatoes we grew last year resembled each other enough that we had a hard time telling them apart. If nothing else, these will be useful to plant between similar looking varieties and keep them separate. But even without that excuse I intend to grow these again - see the bit about them being my favourite grown so far. Amounts were probably about half the amount of potatoes I could have expected from the same space. In other words, disappointing but not pointless.
Toka Toka Gold is a variety native to northern New Zealand, where it is also known as Golden Kumara. It seems to be one of the three standard varieties grown there, along with Owairaka, also known as Red Kumara, and Beauregard, an American variety. Toka Toka Gold was bred by B. Coleman, grown by I. McKinley, named Toka Toka Gold by W. Stacy, of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and introduced commercially in 1972.
This is more of a classification than a specific varietal name, and as such I don't know exactly what I have. It will definitely be a bit of a novelty rather than a staple for Canadian growers, as I had even lower yields of these than of the Toka Toka Gold. Since the purple fleshed sweet potatoes are generally long season varieties, that's not particularly surprising. Like the Toka Toka Gold, these will be very good for keeping patches of similar looking varieties separated.
It seems that purple fleshed sweet potatoes are associated with Japan, specifically Okinawa, although this is not the variety known as Okinawan Purple, which has white skin - this one is purple in and out. It's possible this is the heritage Hawaiian variety known as Molokai, and carried by Baker's Creek in the U.S. There's also one sold by Southern Exposure they call All Purple, which may or may not be the same thing. Both of those seem to ultimately trace back to Japan.
We found the flavour of these to be milder than most varieties of sweet potatoes we have grown, but still with that distinctive sweet potato flavour. Mr. Ferdzy thought these were his favourite variety for flavour. I was not so keen, but thought they were fine. The colour is certainly amazing and would lend itself to lots of Fun with Food (TM), as well as presumably being rich in anthocyanins. The texture was moister than that of Toka Toka Gold, but drier than that of Owairaka. It was also extremely smooth and non-stringy.
Owairaka is also known as Owairaka Red, or Red Kumara. It is by far the most common variety of New Zealand, accounting for 80% to 90% of the sweet potatoes eaten there. In its modern iteration, it is a selection of a mutation of Waina, made in the 1950s from a large number of strains then available. Waina was brought from South America in the 1850s, and it displaced to some degree the smaller, lower producing varieties that the Maori already had.
I think this variety produced fairly well, but not as well as Georgia Jet. It's hard to tell though, as I had it planted next to the Georgia Jet and they turned out to be very similar in skin colour.
As to the flavour, I don't know what to say. I cut mine open and instead of being the expected white colour it was a pale yellow. Is that the actual colour, or have I mixed my varieties up hopelessly? I thought this was the one of the three look-alike (on the outside, at least) varieties that I had kept good track of, the other two being Georgia Jet and Tainung65. From examining my remaining raw sweet potatoes, so far as I am able, none seem to have really white flesh; they are all pale yellow. Certainly I don't think I could distinguish these by taste from either of the above, assuming that what I ate was Owairaka. In which case it's a quite sweet, quite moist, and flavourful sweet potato.