Packed with essential nutrients, antioxidants, and fibre, Kumara--the name used for sweet potato in Maori cuisine--promotes good vision, supports immune function, regulates blood sugar levels, and aids in digestion. Embrace this versatile vegetable in a new way with Hangi cooking methods from Maori Cuisine.
Kumara has gained popularity as a staple food in Hangi, a traditional Maori cooking method. Not only does it add delicious flavour to the meal, but it also offers a wide range of healthful properties that contribute to overall well-being. Let's explore the various reasons why Kumara should be included in your diet.
Hangi Cuisine Origins
Hangi cuisine is a traditional cooking method and style of cuisine practised by the Māori people of New Zealand. The word "hangi" refers to both the cooking method and the resulting meal. It involves cooking food in an underground pit oven, which is heated using heated rocks and steam.
Here's how a hangi is traditionally prepared:
Digging the Pit: A large pit is dug in the ground and lined with hot rocks. The rocks are typically volcanic stones that retain heat well.
Heating the Rocks: The rocks are heated by building a wood fire in the pit and allowing it to burn until the rocks become extremely hot.
Preparing the Food: The food, which typically includes meats like pork, lamb, and chicken, as well as vegetables like potatoes, kumara (sweet potatoes), and pumpkin, is prepared and seasoned. It is often wrapped in leaves such as cabbage or banana leaves to help retain moisture and add flavour.
Layering the Food: The food is placed in layers on top of the hot rocks in the pit. The layers are separated by wet cloths or sacks, which produce steam during the cooking process.
Covering and Cooking: The pit is then covered with earth or wet cloth to seal in the heat and steam. The food is left to cook for several hours, usually around three to six hours, allowing the flavours to meld together and the meat to become tender and juicy.
Uncovering and Serving: Once the cooking time is complete, the pit is uncovered, and the food is carefully lifted out. The hangi meal is typically served as a communal feast, with the food shared among family and friends.
Hangi cooking is not only a method of cooking but also a significant cultural and social event for the Māori people. It is often associated with celebrations, gatherings, and special occasions. The slow cooking process and the use of natural flavours create a unique and delicious meal that is deeply rooted in Māori culture and heritage.
The Versatile Kumara
Kumara is a root vegetable that comes in various colours, including orange, yellow, and purple. Its vibrant hues indicate the presence of beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants. This versatile vegetable can be enjoyed in numerous ways, from roasted and mashed to baked and fried. Its natural sweetness makes it a favourite ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes.
Rich in Nutrients
Kumara is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with essential vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of vitamin A, which promotes good vision, supports immune function, and maintains healthy skin. Additionally, it provides significant amounts of vitamin C, which is vital for collagen production and acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body against damage from free radicals.
Furthermore, Kumara contains high potassium levels, a mineral essential for regulating blood pressure and maintaining heart health. It also offers dietary fibre, aiding in digestion and promoting a feeling of fullness. Incorporating Kumara into your diet can help ensure you receive these valuable nutrients.
One of the standout features of Kumara is its potent antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help protect the body against oxidative stress, which can lead to chronic diseases and accelerated ageing. The vibrant colours of Kumara, particularly in purple varieties, indicate the presence of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that has been linked to numerous health benefits.
Studies suggest that anthocyanins can help reduce inflammation, lower the risk of heart disease, and even potentially inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Including Kumara in your meals not only adds a burst of colour but also contributes to your body's antioxidant defence system.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Contrary to popular belief, Kumara can be an excellent addition to a balanced diet, even for individuals concerned about blood sugar levels. Although it is sweet, Kumara has a relatively low glycemic index (GI), meaning it has a minimal impact on blood glucose levels compared to other high-carbohydrate foods.
The fibre content in Kumara helps slow down digestion, leading to a gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream. This slow and steady release prevents blood sugar spikes, making Kumara a suitable choice for individuals with diabetes or those looking to manage their blood sugar levels effectively.
Supporting Digestive Health
The fibre content in Kumara not only aids in blood sugar regulation but also promotes digestive health. Dietary fibre adds bulk to the stool, preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. It also acts as a prebiotic, providing nourishment for beneficial gut bacteria.
A healthy gut microbiome is essential for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. By including Kumara in your diet, you can support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and improve your overall digestive health.
Boosting Immune Function
A robust immune system is crucial for fighting off infections and keeping us healthy. Kumara contains several nutrients that contribute to immune function, including vitamin A and vitamin C. Vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes, which act as barriers against pathogens.
Vitamin C, on the other hand, supports the production and function of immune cells. By incorporating Kumara into your meals, you provide your body with these essential nutrients, helping to strengthen your immune system and ward off illnesses.
In conclusion, Kumara, or sweet potato, is a nutritious and versatile vegetable that offers a myriad of health benefits. Its rich nutrient profile, including vitamins A and C, potassium, and dietary fibre, makes it an excellent addition to any diet. The antioxidant properties of Kumara, particularly in purple varieties, contribute to overall well-being and protect against chronic diseases.
Moreover, Kumara's low glycemic index and fibre content make it suitable for individuals concerned about blood sugar levels and digestive health. By incorporating Kumara into your meals, you can enjoy its delicious flavour while reaping the nutritional rewards it offers.
Roasted Kumara Fries with Herb Seasoning:
2 medium-sized Kumara (sweet potatoes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Enjoy the delicious and nutritious roasted Kumara fries as a side dish or snack!
Note: Feel free to adjust the seasonings according to your taste preferences. You can also serve the fries with your favourite dipping sauce for an extra flavour.