ROTA — The covers were lifted and the hungry and excited crowd gathered in anticipation, picking up plates and forks as they fell in line to sample over 30 mouth-watering products derived from one of the Pacific’s most stable root crop — the sweet potato, known here as kamuti.
The first annual sweet potato festival on Rota was in progress and guests had a grand time forking food into their plates and sampling the delights laid out on the table. From simple grilled sweet potato to the most complicated pies, tarts, cakes, fritters and other colorful and appetizing desserts to casseroles blended with herbs and spices, salads — everything was gone in a few minutes, and one could already hear the rave reviews of the guests.
Sweet potatoes can be eaten raw, grilled, baked, mashed, boiled, candied, steamed, or processed, and you still get the vitamins and other benefits.
Sweet potatoes grow in various colors and sizes, an abundant resource that Rota is blessed with, and a resource that the island wants to tap into to create a product brand and to spur the economy at the same time.
NMC-CREES Dr. Dilip Nadwani and Anthony Tudela in their research paper titled “Sweet Potato in the CNMI” said sweet potato has been a staple food for the Pacific Islanders for several centuries and is the most widely produced crop in the CNMI, mainly on Rota. Over 50 percent of the commercially produced sweet potatoes on Rota are shipped to Guam while the rest are for Saipan.
Nadwani and Tudela said “the sweet potato is very important to a healthy nutrition based on its high contents of fibrous starches, potassium, iron, calcium and several vitamins.”
This versatile root crop which can be harvested from three to five months is fast finding its place in household tables all year round as the interest in healthy and natural foods increase.
Benefits of sweet potatoes
The U.S. Department of Agriculture enumerates the benefits of sweet potatoes, including being an “antidiabetic” food.
USDA researches showed that sweet potatoes contain proteins with high content of carotenes and vitamin C, making it a valuable food for boosting antioxidants in the body.
Sweet potatoes are also excellent source of carotenes, particularly the darker varieties, and offer a very good source of vitamins B6 and C, manganese, copper, biotin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B2, and dietary fiber.
With the abundance of sweet potato in the CNMI, and with a hundred and one variations that you can do to come up with delectable recipes, the choice is yours. You can add sweet potatoes to your diet not only on special holidays but throughout the year.
(This article was first published at the Marianas Variety)