by Bernard Lahousse
on November 7, 2017

What’s so special about purple sweet potatoes?

Perhaps you've noticed the recent technicolor wave of purple sweet potato desserts trending across Asian sweet shop menus and on social media. There are thousands of different varieties of these starchy tubers, but the purple ones are especially favored for their high concentration of antioxidants and more intense citrusy, rose-scented notes than the orange-, yellow- and white-fleshed varieties.

Purple sweet potatoes have a more complex aroma profile compared to other varieties, consisting of floral-rose, citrus and herbal aromas.

Despite their starchy texture, the term 'sweet potato' is a bit of a misnomer since these tubers are not really potatoes. In fact, Ipomoea batatas cultivars are actually vines with edible roots and leaves packed with vitamins A, B and C, beta-carotene, minerals (calcium, iron and potassium), fiber and even protein. Native to the Americas, sweet potatoes spread throughout the Pacific, eventually making their way to Asia and Southeast Asia, which remain the world's largest producers and consumers of the nutrient-rich tubers.

Aroma Analysis: Purple sweet potato (cooked)

Unlike yellow sweet potatoes, which contain mostly violet-scented floral notes, purple sweet potatoes have a much more complex aroma profile. Our aroma analysis found that purple sweet potatoes are characterized primarily by rose-like floral, citrus and herbal aromas.

Floral notes

The aroma wheel above shows a visualization of the purple sweet potato's unique aroma profile. Our findings revealed rose-scented floral notes with a subtle hint of fruitiness, providing aromatic links to Bourbon vanilla, rum, apricots, raspberries, tamarind and urfa biber (otherwise known as isot or Aleppo pepper).

https://blog-assets.foodpairing.com/2017/10/aroma-photo_purple-sweet-potato-02.jpg

Citrus and herbal aromas

Purple sweet potatoes contain linalool, an aroma molecule also present in cilantro and coriander seed. Its lemony citrus scent pairs well with basil, ginger, blueberries, blackberries, hazelnut and even coffee! These purple tubers contain additional minty-herbal notes similar to the ones we find in bay leaves.

Heart-healthy tubers

Anthocyanin

But where does the purple color come from? Purple sweet potatoes contain high levels of anthocyanin, an antioxidant responsible for the brightly hued flesh of the Okinawan, Ayamurasaki and even purple yam varieties like ube. These types of sweet potatoes can contain as much as three times the amount of anthocyanin found in blueberries, red cabbage and other purple, red or orange-colored fruits and vegetables. To reap the full health benefits, consider eating your sweet potatoes—skins and all—since the skins contain three times as much anthocyanin as its starchy flesh.

Purple sweet potatoes contain high levels of anthocyanin, an antioxidant that gives the tubers their vibrant color.

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by Bernard Lahousse
Scientist, food aficionado and Foodpairing® founder Bernard Lahousse applies his scientific approach to food innovation and extends his knowledge to chefs and bartenders all over the world.

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