While more than half of all Australian households buy sweet potatoes, the range of varieties and colours available other than the popular gold version may come as a surprise to some. 

Last year 64 per cent of Australian households purchased sweet potato and consumed 3.15 kilograms per capita, according to grower research company Hort Innovation.

The purple sweet potato has since stolen the spotlight, being named international vegetable of the year for 2024 due to its nutritional benefits.

Clinical nutritionist Belinda Martinella said the violet vegetable’s colour was due to higher levels of anthocyanins, or antioxidants, than other varieties. 

Belinda Martinella says sweet potatoes are a healthy and affordable staple for families.(Supplied: Belinda Martinella)

“Just like with beetroot, that beautiful deep purple colour means it’s really rich in antioxidants and that gives your immune system a boost,” she said.

“Even the other colour sweet potatoes, such as red and copper, offer lots of nutritional benefits, like vitamin A and C, and beta carotene.”

Sweet potatoes have surged in popularity in the past decade with production up 95 per cent since 2013.

Ms Martinella said they were a colourful and cost-effective cooking option that was available all year.

New varieties of sweet potatoes are gaining in popularity.(ABC Wide Bay: Eliza Goetze)

“We used to see lots of white potatoes but then this beautiful, vibrantly-coloured root vegetable made its way onto people’s plates and into our hearts,” she said.

“Especially at this time of year in winter, we’re looking for those hearty, earthy, delicious, nourishing meals and sweet potato has all of that covered.”

Ms Martinella said they also had a long shelf life.

“Buying in bulk is a good way to get value for money when it comes to root vegetables,” she said.

“Even if they have been in the cupboard or fridge for a while, you can still roast them and then you can freeze them.”

Experimental cooks fuel demand

More than 88 per cent of Australia’s sweet potatoes are produced in Queensland but smaller volumes are grown elsewhere.

Ann Brooke and her husband Peter, who grow organic sweet potatoes at their farm in South Australia’s Riverland, said they sold their produce at a farmer’s market in Adelaide. 

Ann Brooke and her husband Peter are among several sweet potato growers in South Australia.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

Ms Brooke said the purple sweet potato had a different texture and flavour to the regular gold variety.

“They’re a lot heavier and drier in flavour as well but they are beautiful roasted with the skin on,” she said.

“The purple-white one, I think, a lot of Filipino people use for desserts, whereas the white-skinned purple flesh one is more for roasting as a side dish.”

Sweet potatoes are hand harvested at the Brooke’s farm at Barmera. (ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

Aside from making desserts such as purple cheesecake, Ms Brooke said she had found the purple sweet potato was a hit with children.

“I have steamed them and put them on the plate and they look like purple play dough but it was healthy,” she said.

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