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What Are Purple Sweet Potatoes?

A.M. Boyle
A.M. Boyle

Purple sweet potatoes are a type that has a light purple skin and a deep purple flesh. They have a taste very similar to the more common orange sweet potatoes but are generally believed to have more potent antioxidant properties. Generally a little harder to find than other types of sweet potatoes, purple sweet potatoes can be prepared in a number of different ways.

When most people think of a sweet potato, they imagine an orange-tinted tuber. Consequently, many people are taken aback when they first see the vibrant violet hue that is characteristic of purple sweet potatoes. This tuber, sometimes known as the Asian sweet potato, comes in a number of varieties, including Japanese, Korean, and Molokai. Traditionally available primarily through Asian markets, these sweet potatoes have become an increasingly popular crop for farmers in the U.S. Consequently, they are more readily available in mainstream supermarkets and produce stores than they once were.

Purple sweet potatoes are known for their cancer-fighting antioxidant potential.
Purple sweet potatoes are known for their cancer-fighting antioxidant potential.

The primary difference between orange and purple potatoes is the nutritional content. While the orange variety is notoriously high in beta carotene, the purple type are better known for their cancer-fighting antioxidant potential. Anthocyanin, the pigment that gives purple sweet potatoes their exotic color, also produces their potent antioxidant activity. This beneficial quality is actually enhanced by cooking the potatoes, making them a sought-after ally by many in the fight against cancer.

People very often confuse sweet potatoes with yams, using the terms interchangeably. The same is true for purple sweet potatoes due to the fact that there is also a purple variety of yam. While yams are usually bigger, sweeter, and moister than the average sweet potato, the primary distinguishing factor is the skin. The color of a sweet potato’s skin generally matches the color of the flesh, while the color of a yam’s skin will not. For instance, purple potatoes have skins that are light purple in color, which matches the vivid color inside, while a purple yam has a brown or tan skin, giving no clue as to the violet-colored flesh beneath.

With a slightly sweet and mildly nutty flavor, people use purple sweet potatoes as a tasty, healthy accompaniment to many meals, often in place of regular potatoes. Cooks roast them with butter and sugar to enhance their sweetness or bake and serve them with any number of toppings. Some people prefer to boil the potatoes and mash them for a colorful side dish that is sure to please. A variety of interesting recipes for these tasty tubers can easily be found on the Internet.

Discussion Comments


Some people shy away from purple sweet potatoes because of their dark appearance after they have been cooked. Last year at Thanksgiving, I made a big dish full of sliced purple sweet potatoes covered in butter and brown sugar, and only about half of it got eaten.

The year before, I had made the same dish using orange potatoes, and it had disappeared quickly. I had heard several people asking one another what the dark mushy stuff was, so I quickly told them that it was sweet potato casserole. They still turned their noses up at it and were afraid to taste it.

It's amazing what a difference color can make in our perceptions of food. If you take something that normally people would devour and tint it green or blue with food coloring, they don't want to touch it.


I could not believe how purple this kind of potato was when I first cut into one. I expected it to be maybe dark purple or have just a hint of purple to it, but this was full-on bright purple.

It looked like someone had taken a magic marker and colored a regular white potato. I had a hard time believing that something so bright and beautiful could also taste good.

I baked it like I would any other sweet potato, and I was surprised to find that the flavor resembled that of a yam so much. I could not have told the difference if I had been blindfolded and fed both.


@giddion – Yes, they make great fries! Once they have been cooked, though, they are not as purple as they started out to be. In fact, they are more brown than anything.

I wanted to serve purple fries to my sister's family when they came over, but I was disappointed that they lost their vibrant color in the oven. However, they still tasted awesome. They were a tad sweeter than orange sweet potatoes, so you might want to add some extra salt.

They actually ended up looking like small strips of meat when they were done. At first, my niece thought they were steak fingers! Imagine her surprise when she bit into one!


Can you make purple sweet potato fries, or do those only taste good when you use an orange sweet potato? I think it would be a visually interesting food to serve at my cookout in a few weeks.

I'm always trying to take things to another level and offer unique foods presented in a creative way to my guests. I really had never heard of purple sweet potatoes before I read this article, so I am excited to learn if making fries from them is an option.

If it is possible, are they sweeter or not as sweet as regular sweet potato fries? I'd like to know if I will need to use more salt than normal to balance out the sweetness.


@burcinc-- As far as I know, yes, it is safe in moderation (as all other carbohydrates).

Sweet potatoes are actually right on the border on the glycemic index between low and medium. It has a rating of fifty. So it falls into the category of foods to have once in a while for a diabetic.

However, since sweet potatoes, especially purple sweet potatoes, are rich in fiber, vitamins and something called adiponectin, it is much healthier than it seems at first glance. There have even been a few studies done on it where it was shown to help control blood sugar.

I think you should consume purple sweet potatoes if you can find them. You can mash them and add them to breads, pastries and cakes. Even though it won't be as nutritious, you can also use it in powder form to make diabetic desserts.


Are purple sweet potatoes safe for diabetics?

I'm a diabetic and I don't eat potatoes because it raises my blood sugar too much and too fast. Last week, I went to a luncheon at my friend's house and she had made mashed purple sweet potatoes as a side dish. I really wanted to have it but refrained as I didn't know if I was allowed or not. But it looked so amazing and everyone said that it tastes great, rich and sweet.

If it's allowed for diabetics, I might make it myself at home. Since it's sweet, I bet it would be a good alternative to flour in pastries and desserts. And I could reduce the amount of diabetic sweetener in the recipe.

So does anyone have an idea about how safe this kind of potato is for diabetics?

Sweet potatoes confuse me, I can't guess the inner color right!

I know that some purple sweet potatoes are both purple inside and out. But there are also ones that have a yellowish-brown skin rather than a purple one. And then there are ones which have a purple skin but are actually orange inside! So confusing!

I usually end up calling someone who works in the fresh produce isle in groceries and have them explain to me the kind of potato I'm looking at. After several wrong purchases, I am now able to recognize the Japanese purple sweet potato. It's called "murasaki imo." These are purple inside and out and have a long, narrow shape.

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    • Purple sweet potatoes are known for their cancer-fighting antioxidant potential.
      By: Mau Horng
      Purple sweet potatoes are known for their cancer-fighting antioxidant potential.