Sweet Potatoes, a Pillar of Kagoshima Culture

 

In Japanese, sweet potatoes are called “Satsuma Imo.” For those that know a little Kagoshima history, Satsuma is the former name of Kagoshima before it became a prefecture. Sweet potatoes first entered Japan through Kagoshima in the 17th century and have since been a staple in Kagoshima culture. There are a variety of different kinds of sweet potatoes, each with a different flavor and texture, but not all of them are ideal for eating. This week, I will introduce a few ways sweet potatoes are used in Kagoshima today.

First, as everyone would expect, sweet potatoes are used in many local gourmet dishes or even simply as a baked potato known as yaki-imo. The common types of potato for eating are Beni-imo, which includes Beni-Satsuma and Beni-Haruka varieties. These can be identified by their purple skin and are often seen throughout Japan at festival food stalls, local supermarkets, or the seasonal yaki-imo trucks that drive around. In Kagoshima, though, sweet potatoes are often used as a substitute for or mixed together with regular potatoes. In addition, there is a rare sweet potato that is known as Anno Imo, which comes from the island of Tanegashima. This variety of sweet potato has a light purple or brown skin with a golden inside and is particularly sweet and creamy compared to other sweet potatoes. Over the last few years, it has become quite trendy throughout Japan. Sweet potato sweets and snacks also make up a majority of food products at any Kagoshima souvenir shop.

Alcohol is also a big part of Kagoshima culture. However, nihonshu (sake) is almost nowhere to be found. In Kagoshima there is another drink of choice known as shochu, specifically imo-jochu, which is made from sweet potatoes. As Kagoshima is Japan’s top sweet potato producer, it is also the largest producer of shochu, as well. The majority of sweet potatoes used to make shochu, though, are a different kind. The most common shochu sweet potato is call Kogane-Sengan, and has a white skin and white body. It lacks the taste of the other sweet potatoes, but is great for use in the production of shochu.

There is one more use for sweet potatoes in Kagoshima, though, that has recently been brought into the spotlight. Kagoshima sweet potatoes have been proven to have great results when used in feed for cattle and other livestock. In particular, beef and pork. If you follow my articles, you’ll know that Kagoshima is well known for its kurobuta (Berkshire) pork and Kagoshima kuroge wagyu beef was recently voted Japan’s top wagyu beef at the 2017 Wagyu Olympics. Sweet potatoes have wonderful affects in the fattening process which is essential in creating such high quality meet.

Fun Fact: In Kagoshima dialect, sweet potatoes are not called “Satsuma Imo.” They are called “Kara Imo.” The kanji for Kara means “related to China”. In this instance, the potato came from China through the Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa).

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