Tiny Mukago Potatoes
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Tiny Mukago potatoes are very small, aerial tubers, most averaging the size of a shelled English pea, approximately one centimeter in diameter. They are oval to round in shape and have dark brown to gray, russeted skin. The inner flesh is pale cream to white with a sticky texture, similar to taro root. When cooked, Tiny Mukago potatoes take on a soft, bean-like texture and have an earthy, slightly bitter taste.
Tiny Mukago potatoes are available in the fall.
Tiny Mukago potatoes, botanically classified as Dioscorea japonica, are the small, aerial tubers of the yamaimo, or Japanese yam plant. The yamaimo is known as the mountain potato and is best known for its large underground tuber which can take up to three or four years to mature. The Tiny Mukago potatoes are the edible, aerial bulbils that appear annually and grow on the vine of the plant. Once harvested, they are planted to grow more yamaimo root or are utilized as a food source. Tiny Mukago potatoes are also known as Potato Bulbs, Potato Buds, Yam Berries and Yam Nuts. They are considered to be a delicacy in Japan.
Tiny Mukago potatoes contain vitamin B1, B2, B6, and C as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Tiny Mukago potatoes can be consumed raw or cooked, but taste best when boiled lightly, grilled, or fried in oil and salted. Tiny Mukago potatoes are often served as a bar snack in Japan. They are also used in miso soup and boiled along with rice to make Tiny Mukago Gohan (potato rice). They pair well with gingko nuts, burdock root, lotus root, carrots, chestnuts, mushrooms, garlic, parsley, kombu, and sake. Tiny Mukago potatoes have a relatively long shelf life as long as they are stored in a cool, dry place.
Tiny Mukago potatoes are a rarity outside of Japan, where Native Ibarakians in Tsukuba and Ibaraki still often refer to the Mukago by their ancient name, Nukago. Tiny Mukago potatoes are used in shojin-ryori (Japanese temple food), which makes use of foraged ingredients. Tiny Mukgao potatoes were also mentioned in a Shijo school text, one of the earliest records devoted to the preparation and presentation of food in Japan. The text, which dates back to 1489 A.D., indicates that an elaborate plate, which ought to be appropriate for the rank of the person the dish is being served to, should be used to serve skewers of grilled Tiny Mukago potatoes and fish cakes.
Tiny Mukago potatoes are native to Japan, China, and Korea. The yamaimo plant grows naturally along rivers and forest edges and in the mountains of Japan, where it has a history of cultivation dating back to 50,000 BCE. Today, the yamaimo plant is grown in home gardens both for its large, underground yams and for the Tiny Mukago aerial tubers. Tiny Mukago potatoes thrive in temperate climates and are found mainly in Japan.