Delicious and colourful New Zealand yams are a staple ingredient in warming meals.
One of the country’s largest yam growers is Halfords, based about 10 km north of Feilding in the lower North Island. The varieties grown in these rich soils were brought to New Zealand from Chile by the Halford family in 1869.
Commercial yam production began in the 1960s with the Halford family establishing the first markets for this exotic vegetable which has been grown in the same spot ever since.
Yams, or ‘Oca’ in their native South American home, are harvested from autumn through to the early months of winter and are usually available to retailers until October. The thumb-sized tubers come in a range of colours, making for attractive displays with the red, apricot and yellow tones of the main commercial varieties.
In the Andes, yams are second only to the potato as a staple food. They’re a nutritious addition to mealtimes, containing potassium and folate, which regulate blood sugar and grow healthy cells, and vitamin A, which supports healthy vision and vitamin B6 for brain development.
New Zealand yams are very different to the tropical yams grown elsewhere around the globe, and in America, recipes that call for yams refer to a sweet potato similar to our kūmara crops.
Like many of our winter vegetable crops, yams need a spell of cooler weather and frosty conditions to increase their sweetness and flavour. They have a slightly tangy taste which provides a boost to many favourite Kiwi classics, from stews to roasts and even warm salads.
Yams need to be stored similarly to other staples, such as parsnips or potatoes. Cool, dark conditions are ideal to prolong the shelf life of stock, which should be checked and rotated regularly.