Sweet Potato Stems & Leaves
Flowering Sweet Potato Plants [Gogumajulki (Korea, stems); Ipomoea batatas]

Young leaves and growing tips (stems) of the vines of sweet potatoes are quite edible. These greens are eaten in many parts of Asia, particularly Taiwan and the Philippines, and especially in Africa. For some reason Koreans use only stems and not the leaves. This is not the only plant where the leaves are eaten elsewhere but only the stems in Korea.

The photo is of flowering sweet potato plants in Vietnam. Leaf shape varies widely with variety, but the flowers all seem much the same.   Photo by Bui Thuy Dao Nguyen distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

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Dried Sweet Potato Stems Sweet potato stems are a popular vegetable in Korea, both fresh and dried. They are often prepared as namul (seasoned vegetables) and served as banchan (small side dishes). While American sweet potatoes are somewhat different from the Korean variety, their young stems have been found quite suitable for Korean recipes. Korean sweet potatoes have red skins, but bright yellow flesh, not orange.

Buying & Storing:   In North America, if you want fresh stems you have to grow them yourself, or know someone who does. They are, however, available dried from well stocked Korean markets here in Los Angeles, and on-line. Sealed packages, kept away from heat and sunlight, should last over a year. The photo specimens were purchased at a Korean market in a 4 ounce bag for 2015 US $3.79, or $15.16 per pound.

Yield:   4 ounces dried made 1 pound 2-5/8 ounces after boiling and cooling (4.7 times). After soaking an additional 10 hours, weight was 1 pound 8 ounces = 6 times, so the extra soak is worthwhile for both weight and texture.

Cooking:   The dried shoots must be rehydrated, and that doesn't happen real fast. Korean cooking maven Maangchi recommends this procedure:

  1. Take dried Sweet Potato Stems out of the package and rinse.
  2. Put the Dried Stems in a pot with cold water to cover it by 3 inches. Cover the pot and bring to a boil for 30 minutes.
  3. Set the pot aside, covered, and let cool for 2 to 3 hours.
  4. Drain Stems and rinse.
  5. Return to the pot. Cover with cold water by 3 inches. Let soak overnight or at least 10 hours.
  6. Rinse and drain. It is now ready for use in recipes.

Should you actually have fresh sweet potato stems, this is what you do with them.

  1. Cut them off at the first mature leaf. They will be about 6 or so inches long.
  2. Break off (do not cut off) the leaves at the tip by bending to one side. They will still be attached by the skin. Pull them down the stem to pull off the skin on one side.
  3. Break off just a little of the tip in the opposite direction from breaking off the leaves, and use this tip to peel off the skin on the other side of the stem.
  4. Rinse the peeled stems in two changes of water, sloshing them around well.
  5. Put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, then boil covered for 5 minutes. Try a sample and decide if you want them softer. If you do, boil longer, but not more than 10 minutes total.
  6. Drain and rinse in two changes of cold water.
  7. They are now ready for recipes. Usually they are cut into about 2 inch lengths.
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