Kumara (sweet potato) has a long history of cultivation in New Zealand. Brought here by early Maori settlers, over one thousand years ago from Pacific Islands, this bush which had much smaller tubers was widely grown, especially in the semi-tropical regions of the North Island. Pre-European Maori managed kumara-growing with great skill. They grew several different varieties of ‘bush’ kumara, but compared to the varieties we eat today, they were very small in size, being no bigger than a finger. Modern kumara grows on a creeping vine and evolved from a larger American variety with bigger tubers and better taste which was imported in the early 1850s. The majority of kumara is grown in Northland in the Northern Wairoa region where soil type and climatic conditions suit it perfectly.
There are different varieties of kumara, however three main varieties are commercially available in New Zealand. The most common is the red-skinned, Owairaka Red, which has a creamy white flesh and is sold as Red; gold kumara, sometimes sold as Toka Toka Gold, has a golden skin and flesh, and a sweeter taste than red; orange kumara, sometimes sold as Beauregard, has a rich orange flesh and is sweeter than both red and gold.