Ratalu Purple Yam
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Ratalu Purple yams are cylindrical and rounded at the ends and differ in size and shape depending on the growing environment. They may be twisted or gnarled and can measure up to 20 centimeters long and 8 centimeters wide. The rough skins are brownish-gray and can be covered in small rootlets. The flesh is bright lavender and has a slimy texture like taro and is very starchy. Ratalu Purple yam has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.
Ratalu Purple yams are available in the fall and winter months.
Ratalu Purple yams are a Southeast Asian tuber often confused with purple sweet potatoes. They are known as Ube in the Philippines, where they are used to make sweet confections, ice cream, and cakes. In India, they are known as Kand or Indian Purple yam, and are used in savory vegetable dishes. The starchy purple root vegetables are botanically classified as Dioscorea alata and are sometimes referred to as Violet yams or Water yams.
Ratalu Purple yams are a good source of carbohydrates, copper, vitamin B6 and C, and potassium. They also contain folate, calcium and protein, as well as calcium, iron, phosphorus, and a small amount of vitamin A. The deep purple pigment is the result of anthocyanin compounds which provide antioxidant benefits.
Ratalu Purple yams are cooked prior to consuming and retain their striking purple color even when cooked. The skin is peeled or cut away and the roots are rinsed to remove any sliminess. They can be boiled, roasted, cut into discs and baked or fried for chips or fritters. In India they are used like potatoes and other starchy tubers in savory vegetable and curry dishes. In the Philippines, they are steamed or boiled, mashed, and sweetened and used to make a jam or paste which is served atop halo-halo, the popular shaved ice dessert. Dehydrated yams are ground into powder which is added to baked goods and used to make paste. Ratalu Purple yams will keep for up to 10 days when kept in a cool, well-ventilated, dark place. Cut pieces will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.
Ratalu Purple yams are an important ingredient in dishes widely consumed during celebrations in India, like Diwali, which is called a “festival of fire and food”. In the India’s westernmost state, Gujrat, the purple tubers are used to make vegetable undhiyu or Ratalu puri, discs of yam battered in gram flour and fried for fritters or 'pakora'. In the Philippines, they are a major vegetable crop and food source, and are sold fresh, as a dehydrated powder, or most commonly as a paste known as 'ube halaya'.
Ratalu Purple yams are native to Indonesia, though their specific origin is unknown. They are grown and cultivated in a region that ranges from India through Myanmar and Vietnam to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and south to northern Australia. The starchy root vegetable grows best in warm, tropical and subtropical regions where the summers are wet. They are also an important food crop in the Caribbean, Central America and West Africa. They are grown on a limited basis in Florida and in Southern California where they require more water and attention. Ratalu Purple yams may be spotted at farmer’s markets, marketplaces and wet markets in areas where they are cultivated.