Purple yams

A friend of mine just sent me pictures of ‘purple yam’ ice cream. A veg grown in Asia. Does anyone here (I’m sure there is someone!) who knows the name of this yam. Its a lovely purple color. We have many Asian markets now available to me in France and I want to know more about them. Are they sweet like a sweet potato? Many thanks!


I grew a purple yam for the first time this last year. I haven’t eaten it yet. I’m pretty sure it isn’t at all sweet.


They’re kind of like sweet potatoes, but are a different beast. Much starchier. Sweet potatoes are in the genus Ipomoea whereas yams are in Dioscorea, but sweet potatoes are commonly called yams in the US. Here’s some more info:

What Is The Difference Between A Sweetpotato And A Yam? | North Carolina SweetPotatoes.

Purple yam products are pretty common in Asian markets here, especially if they serve more of a Southeast Asian and/or Philippine clientele. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the raw yams, but I’ve seen paste ready to turn into other goodies or finished (usually frozen) prepared foods and baked goods.

@cousinfloyd did you grow purple sweet potatoes or purple yams? I’ve grown purple sweet potatoes in the past that were less sweet than regular sweets.


Apparently the Tagalog word for it is ube. There’s also a Japanese sweet potato used similarly called murasaki imo (literally ‘purple potato’), but I think that’s a true sweet potato.


Yes I used to get ube ice cream at a place in San Jose. It was from the purple yam. They also had young coconut ice cream which is excellent but I can’t remember what it was called


you got it!

purple yam is not sweet at all, but its appetizing nutty–and tad bitter but quite pleasant flavor begs to be sweetened. Much like cacao is nutty and bitter in its raw form, but will taste like heaven when sweetened :slight_smile:
so yes, as @GeorgiaGent mentoned it makes excellent ice cream. Unlike sweet potatoes(aka false yams) which get mushy with processing, true yams just like ube thicken and add body to the mix, so will make dense italian gelato instead even though the recipe calls for regular ice cream.

ube paste is delicious as a spread or as ingredient for ice cream, but i personally like it partly ground-up, as the resilient lumps add a chewy character to the mix. If you’ve had boba pearls, ube lumps are kind of similar, but on the rich/creamier side.
ube is also a unique source of blue-violet anthocyanins. It is one of the richest provider, if not the richest, of this antioxidant, since the species produces gigantic roots.
i see you’re in NC, makes me so happy see someone growing it there!

it is called macapuno ice cream, which is a prized mutant coconut(being a relatively rare occurrence in nature) that produces ube-like tenacity and creaminess.
It is easy to mistake it for young coconut, but it is actually obtained from brown coconuts, where the inside does not have coconut water, as the coconut water has transformed into a thick creamy blob which thus retains the desirable qualities of young green coconuts. Regular brown coconuts usually just have coconut water inside, and a dryish white flesh surrounding it, which is ok but not as rich and palatable as macapuno


There are several ciltivars of purple yam(not purple sweet potato). Forum member Caesar grows several kinds of it


Didn’t you have an outdoor family picnic with a beautiful purple dessert? Or am I thinking of someone else in the forum?

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Thank you all so much for your input. I do remember seeing a fabulous purple dessert on a picnic table a few years back. Who was it? Thanks so much!!!


I think the first time I encountered it was when I was living in Vegas back in the spring of '08. It was new to me then, but I started seeing it everywhere after that. I’m guessing it was there all along, but I just hadn’t noticed it in the Asian stores before.

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Yes Macapuno was it! Thanks for the explanation. Can’t find these flavors where I live now.


lots of asians here in vegas so yes, it has been available here for a quite a while. :slight_smile: Just a little pricey due to the transpacific trip to California, then from there, to vegas.

i see you’re in Georgia now(and originally from CA). Probably not many Asians in your state to sell goods from California, at least from a business perspective. Most of the asian stuff we get here in vegas are “imported” from california too.


We tried growing the Okinawa type purple sweet potatoes. When roasted they have a floral nuttiness. Unfortunately, Texas clay conditions did not suit them.


There are purple sweet-potatoes (“Molokai” comes to mind), but the purple yam used for sweets is the decidedly unsweet (starchy) Ube.

I’m not sure if mine counts as an actual “Ube”, but it’s the same species anyway. Dioscorea alata, variety “Dark Night St. Vincent” (allegedly originally from Jamaica). Flavor-wise, it’s a pretty typical alata… starchy, mushy if overcooked, but quite purple. No sweetness.

The first and second season I grew them in pots, and they developed a deep purple under-layer to the skin, and they oozed a bit of purple when cut, but were otherwise white inside. This year I harvested one from the ground, and it had the deep purple color, which stayed when cooked. I got a lot of bulbils off of it, if anyone’s interested


I also have an alleged Ube from Florida, but despite the reddish skin, the inside has remained white no matter where I grew it.

The purple air potato is a much deeper purple, but while I eat it without fuss, it is semi-toxic, so I make sure to boil it several times.


The purple “yams” I’m familiar with are the Okinawa ones or Japanese purple sweet potatoes. Some are quite sweet and similar in texture to a regular sweet potato. These tend to be very deep purple both the skin and flesh. Others are more starchy like a taro, yet still sweet like a good chestnut. This type tends to have a grayish skin with lighter hair purple center. Most Whole Foods carry one form or another, and most Asian markets have them too. I regularly snack on these while drinking tea. The yam, Dioscorea alata, I’m more familiar with as an ingredient in cooking and not something one snacks on as is.


Left to right, Purple, Okinawa, and Nuggett. Okinawa is white to cream on the outside and purple on the inside.

And here are the plants growing:

These are commonly sold in ethnic stores and sometimes from growers in Hawaii. They are used to make several dishes including pies, baked sweet potatoes, candied, and to make ice cream and other desserts.

One caution, this is a VERY long season variety that I struggle to get to produce in Alabama. If you want to grow it, be sure to start plants early and get them in the ground as soon as the soil is warm enough. Okinawa is a very difficult sweet potato to grow in the continental U.S.

There are quite a few other purple varieties available. Glenn has several on his website.


One more thing I would like to mention. Mahon and Bradshaw are the same variety, but Mahon has been cultured to remove viruses. Johnny’s sells Mahon. Bradshaw is available from several online suppliers. I can make a very good argument that Mahon/Bradshaw is the best sweet potato I’ve grown with Okinawa Purple running neck and neck.


That’s great Caesar you find the purple dioscorea bulbifera! Congratulations! :+1:

Thanks so much. It is the first smashed purple yam and that was the color. I think they are fabulous. I will try to find them. I have an ice cream maker ready to go! Sent the picture of your yams to my friend she lives in Boseman, MT. Don’t know if they will grow there!

Wow, never known there are so many sweet potato cultivars. Sandhillpreservation really has nice collections in sweet potatoes!


I grew a sweet potato that was purple inside and out when I lived in Kansas. I’m not sure of the variety as I grew it from roots I bought at the farmers’ market. Productivity and days to maturity were similar to Beauregard. Roots were skinnier and more uniform, a little starchier and slightly less sweet. Great flavor and color. My best guess is that it’s “All Purple” as sold by Southern Exposure, but they list the days to maturity at 120, whereas I’d say mine were more in the 90-100 range. Dingess Purple Flesh and Midnight Purple at Sandhill also look like good contenders.