Sweet Potato/Yam

Purple Sweet Potatoes and How to Use Them

November 15, 2014

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: Keep your eyes peeled (get it? yeah, okay, you get it) for sweet potatoes in striking hues.

Purple Sweet Potatoes

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Despite what their name would suggest, sweet potatoes aren’t potatoes. They’re one of the few edible plants within the Morning Glory family -- maybe the only family member you actually eat, because really, how often are you eating water spinach?

Just like purple carrots, there are a number of varieties of purple sweet potatoes. These pictured are Stokes Purple sweet potatoes, and you’ll notice that not only is the flesh a shade of magenta purple (1, below), but the skin is purplish (2, below), too; this is opposed to some other purple sweet potato varieties, like the Okinawan sweet potato, which have more of a typical potato-beige colored skin.

Unlike a lot of other purple vegetables that lose their distinctive coloring when cooked, purple sweet potatoes will maintain their coloring, and the flesh of these Stokes Purple sweet potatoes will actually brighten!

Purple Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are generally thought of as being one of two types: those that have soft, moist flesh and those that have firm, dry flesh, the latter of which can be more mealy and fibrous. (In case you're ever on Jeopardy!, know that there is a third type too though -- the boniato, or Cuban sweet potato.)

If you’re gearing up for candied yams at Thanksgiving, you're likely actually having the moist, soft-fleshed sweet potatoes -- yams are an entirely different vegetable. At one point growers in the U.S. started referring to the moist, sweet types of sweet potatoes as yams -- to distinguish them from the dry, firm varieties -- and the name stuck.

Sweet potatoes grow in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, so they can be grown in the U.S., unlike yams, which always come from a tropical locale. Stokes Purples are grown in California; in the U.S., sweet potatoes are grown in a handful of states, but are mainly found in subtropical Southern states like North Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana. If you live in an area where sweet potatoes are grown, head to a well-stocked farmers market to find sweet potato greens when they're in season -- the young vines and leaves of the plant are edible, and you can cook them as you would spinach or any other greens.

Purple Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are generally available year-round, but Japanese varieties (like the Okinawan sweet potato) tend to be available from late summer through late spring. You have your best chance of procuring Stokes Purples from September through April: Check Frieda's website to see where you can find them near you.

As with all other potatoes and sweet potatoes, choose firm specimens. If you see any cuts, sunken spots, or signs of shriveling, choose a different potato. Diane Morgan also recommends selecting “medium-size roots that are plump in the middle (3) with tapered ends (4).”

Store them like you would regular potatoes -- in a basket, in a cool dry place -- but note that they have a shorter storage lifespan than regular potatoes, so plan to use them within a week or two.

Purple Sweet Potatoes

You can use purple sweet potatoes anywhere you’d use orange sweet potatoes, but you might want to choose applications that highlight their color.

Keep it simple and serve them baked with butter, brown sugar, and spices, or mashed with maple and chipotle. Make purple potato chipssweet potato gnocchi, or sweet potato fries. Use them in desserts like sweet potato pie or ice cream.

Tell us: How do you like to use sweet potatoes? What would you do with purple ones?

Photos by Mark Weinberg

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Stephanie
  • Betty Smith
    Betty Smith
  • Hanna Kim
    Hanna Kim
  • Ryan Lenz
    Ryan Lenz
  • Heidi
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Stephanie October 30, 2017
I didn’t appreciate the snide and prejudiced comment in your article about water spinach. Anyone who eats authentic Chinese or Southeast Asian food has likely come across and probably loves water spinach, and in my experience a LOT more common than purple sweet potatoes.
Lindsay-Jean H. October 30, 2017
Hi Stephanie, I'm sorry, I'm not sure what article you're referring to, I haven't written an article about water spinach. Please let me know what article you're referring to, I certainly don't ever intend to come across as insensitive.
Stephanie October 30, 2017
In this article you mention that sweet potatoes are “one of the few edible plants within the Morning Glory family -- maybe the only family member you actually eat, because really, how often are you eating water spinach?” Maybe most of your readership is in Middle America and have no idea what water spinach is, but I found this article in a google search while looking for ideas on what to do with some extra purple sweet potatoes I have and my first thought was, “actually, I eat it all the time and it’s one of my favorite vegetables.” Water spinach, along with large pea shoots, bok choy and Napa cabbage, are some of the most common vegetables offered at Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants. If someone is reading an article about PURPLE sweet potatoes, of all things, a crop I’ve only ever seen offered at Whole Foods, farmers markets and Asian markets, they’re more than likely familiar with water spinach. That’s all!
Lindsay-Jean H. October 31, 2017
Hi again Stephanie, thank you for taking the time to follow up. I'd forgotten about the reference, and while I did not intend to come across as snide, I do sincerely apologize for the offense. I will be more thoughtful with my wording in the future.
LCL October 31, 2017
I had the same interpretation as I read this piece. Why would anyone make such a callous statement. Wasn't so impressed with the article overall anyway.
Michael S. July 14, 2018
Wow! Sensitive much
thomas C. October 17, 2018
I have no idea what water spinach is so she's was appropriate in saying what she said. Who the heck eats water spinach? Not me!
Betty S. June 2, 2017
It could be a mind thing, but whatever it is, I can't eat the purple sweet potato.. I tried, it tasted good, but I could not eat it!! Every time I looked at it, I would want to throw up. I'll stick with my regular sweet potatoes.
Hanna K. November 25, 2014
Lindsay-Jean, great article! We love the photos. Happy Thanksgiving!

-Hanna at Frieda's
Lindsay-Jean H. December 1, 2014
Thanks so much Hanna! I used them to make vanilla purple sweet potato ice cream, I'll share the recipe with you soon!
Anykka April 25, 2019
I love purple yam ice cream. Yummy!!!
Ryan L. November 17, 2014
The latex in some of these can be over-poweringly bitter. I've found soaking them can help, and if they are really latex-y, peel and then soak.
Heidi November 16, 2014
Okinawan sweet potatoes are amazing! Had them in Hawaii with coconut cream and I still dream about them.... Wish I could grow them or find them in western NY
Anne C. November 16, 2014
Discovered these when searching for purple yams to bake ube makapuno cake for some friends from the Philippines. Enjoyed the extra purple sweet potatoes roasted with butter. The cake was beautiful and pale lavender. The traditional cake recipe has extra purple color recommended to brighten up the purple it up. It was nice to find these purple sweet potatoes in the regular market.
Petite F. November 15, 2014
I love these!! I like it pure in that just bake it and eat it with the skin:)