Satsumaimo, or Japanese sweet potato, are everywhere in the fall, from trucks offering freshly roasted yakiimo (baked sweet potatoes) to convenience store treats and your local cake shop. But did you know that different varieties have distinct flavor profiles and textures? Indeed, getting to know their uniqueness can level up your autumn cooking—and eating—experience here in Japan!
In Japanese, sweet potatoes are often divided into hoku hoku-kei (soft and flaky type), nettori-kei (sticky type) and shittori-kei (mellow and smooth type). While the sweet and sticky nettori-kei have been popular since the early 2000s, the more traditional flavor and texture profile of Japanese-grown sweet potatoes was the hoku hoku-kei, known for their heartiness and balance of sweetness. Shittori-kei are often recent hybrids that attempt to fill the middle ground between the flaky and filling hoku hoku and sweet and dense nettori.
The five varieties of satsumaimo below are especially beloved. Discover more about what makes them delicious and how to harness their individuality when cooking and ordering food for yourself in this piece.
First grown in Kagoshima Prefecture’s Kanoya City in the late 2000s, the beniharuka sweet potato is produced mostly in Oita and Hokkaido. This hybrid crop combines the shape, size and appearance of the popular Kyushu No.121 and the sweet taste of the harukogane satsumaimo. Part of the nettori type, this potato is known for its sweetness, attractive color and rounded shape.
With a reddish-purple exterior and chewy yet soft and moist interior, beni haruka simply melts in your mouth. Make your own roasted beni haruka at home by washing the potato, wrapping it in aluminum foil and cooking it in the oven at 180 °C for about an hour.
With roots dating back to the 1980s in Ibaraki Prefecture, the purplish-red beni azuma is the most popular sweet potato on this list and the one you’re most likely to find at your supermarket. Its popularity stems from the scale of its Kanto-based production and its consistency and taste profile, which is considered nostalgic—aka a pre-2000s sweet potato flavor.
As the prime hoku hoku type representative, beni azuma’s yellow flesh is firm and flakey with earthy notes, which lends itself well to various ways to enjoy it. Of course, roasted is often the go-to choice and can be easily prepared at home or grabbed on your next grocery run. But if you’re looking for a tasty alternative, try tempura, which works well with these firm potatoes!
Although annou beni may be small, it packs a serious flavor punch. Popularized after the Second World War, these sweet potatoes are grown exclusively in the mineral-rich soil of Tanegashima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture. If eating superfoods is high on your priority list, this one is rich in beta-carotene. This antioxidant helps our bodies fight free radicals, protecting us from certain cancers and heart diseases.
Underneath its orangey skin, annou beni’s yellow flesh is sweet like honey with a sticky, creamy texture. As such, it is an ideal representative of the nettori type potatoes enjoying current popularity. Annou beni can be roasted or included in desserts to take advantage of their natural sweetness or stewed and added to curries for savory options.
Shiruku Suiito (Silk-Sweet)
As the name suggests, these sweet potatoes are characterized by a flesh comparable to the smoothness of silk when cooked. Created as a hybrid sweet potato and entering the market in the early 2010s, it quickly gained a reputation for its balance of sweetness and smooth texture. As a popular version of the shittori type, it is both sweet and simultaneously refreshing.
Grown largely in Kumamoto Prefecture, silky sweet emerges from the ground as a potato with a cream color inside, transforming into an intense yellow as it roasts. Due to its relatively high water content, baking can transform its firm texture to soft and fluffy. As shittori are bred to be a wonderful all-around satsumaimo, they can easily transform into decadent sweets and savory dishes.
Kuikku Suiito (Quick-Sweet)
Like many other entries, quick-sweet is a hybrid sweet potato. In the early 1990s, beni azuma and Kyushu No.30 were crossbred to produce this new variety featuring dark reddish-purple skin and pale yellow flesh. It proved to be more rot-resistant and relatively more productive than other sweet potatoes.
Another representative of the shittori-kei, this quick cooking beauty easily and quickly releases its sugars even at a low temperature, allowing it to be successfully cooked in a microwave. While many other Japanese sweet potatoes require an hour in the oven, the quick sweet can match that sweetness and smoothness in just six minutes at 600W. As such, it is ideal if you want a fast, healthy snack!
What’s your favorite type of Japanese sweet potato? Do you prefer them baked, in sweets or dishes, like curries? Let us know in the comments below!