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Are ‘yakiimo’ poised to become the next trendy food?

The arrival of colder weather in Japan is typically accompanied by the froggy voice of yakiimo (roast yam or sweet potato) peddlers, hawking their wares on street corners from pushcarts and small trucks.

Connoisseurs of this tasty, inexpensive and healthy snack, prized for its warming and tummy-filling properties — albeit somewhat less so for the flatulence it is reputed to invoke — are aware of the various yam varieties, including the Anno-imo cultivated on Tanegashima island, as well as newer strains such as the Beni-haruka and Silk sweet that have been refined through hybridization.

Now, reports Yukan Fuji (Nov 18), the humble imo appears on the verge of a boom, with specialty shops even opening in Tokyo’s swank Ginza district.

As a food item, of course, yams are nothing new, having been introduced to Okinawa in the early 17th century. They’ve long been known in food circles as one of the top three natural sweets favored by females, along with the kabocha (acorn squash) and kuri (Chinese chestnut).

The current boom can be attributed to expanded sales by businesses such as supermarkets and convenience stores, in part due to the decline in traditional distribution channels such as pushcarts and mini-trucks.

Yams, normally, are stored for two or three months after harvesting, and as they ripen their sugar content increases. Unlike apples, strawberries or mandarin oranges, for example, attractive appearance or size are not requirements for determining quality, so they can be moved by wholesalers in bulk.

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