SUP230420NADkumara.jpg Kelly Amoore in her safety gear at Delta kumara packhouse in Dargaville. Photo / Supplied
Drop-dead sexy kumara are being harvested in the hot beds of Northland this season, says Delta Kumara packhouse general manager Locky Wilson.
And while beauty might be in the eyes of the beholder, he says the dry season has meant that kumara this year are less gnarly in shape, which is a definite attraction for consumers.
• How the humble kumara is taking over the world
• Purple kumara reduces risk of colon cancer by seventy-five per cent
• Kumara controversy: NZ scientists question study findings
• Poppa's patch sprouts king-sized kumara
Wilson says the ultimate beauty pageant is when customers sift through bins at the supermarket to take the best-looking kumara and leave the gnarliest ones behind as they are harder to peel.
"Customers do the best grading themselves,'' he says.
The packhouse processes about 45 per cent of Northland's crop, including kumara from Kaitaia and the Dargaville area.
"The harvest is almost finished and the season is shaping up really well,'' he said.
Volume is likely to be down slightly, but the quality is high.
Wilson says the kumara industry is in good heart, with fewer growers growing larger crops.
New Zealand's kumara crops are grown on about 1500ha of alluvial plains, with 90 per cent grown in the Dargaville area. An expanding area planted around Kaitaia is being developed, and kumara grown in the Far North are available a bit earlier than the main crop.
As a tropical plant, the kumara requires particular growing conditions.
"They can be quite tricky because they need 120 days of heat with good day and night temperatures. They also like a bit of moisture so they can be quite fickle,'' he said.
New Zealanders' love affair with the kumara is hot and heavy, with 75 per cent of people saying they love eating them.
"They have a good following.''
All of New Zealand's crop is sold to the local market. The main competition come from other root crops when they are cheap, he says.
The packhouse has continued to operate under Covid-19 restrictions, with the 40 staff wearing protective face shields as well as working in booths to keep them safely separated rather than working at an open table as they normally would.
"Staff know they have to protect the Delta bubble when they go home to their own bubbles as our workplace depends on it.''
Wilson says kumara processing lasts all year as the storage of the vegetable is carefully managed to keep them fresh tasting.
"The growers all have storage and the kumara are placed in sauna-like conditions to heat them until small buds start to sprout. This changes all the natural sugars and keeps them tasting fresh.
"After the curing process, the kumara are kept cool to be held dormant. This enables us to keep a constant supply all year round.''
Wilson says people might not realise kumara processing is all done by hand as the small shoots need to be removed to prepare them for sale.
Growers also all have their own nurseries where the shoots for the next crops are propagated.
There are four main types of kumara grown in New Zealand: Owairaka Red, Toka Toka Gold, Beauregard Orange and the new purple variety, Purple Dawn, which is purple all through. Each has its own distinctive colour and cooking differences.
"We have found that the key thing that customers look for is peel-ability. This is the main factor for buying decisions rather than price,'' he says.
And Wilson's recommendation for preparing the sexy and versatile kumara?
"Bake them as wedges, chips or whole, or they are also great baked, boiled, mashed and steamed. You don't have to peel them as there is a lot of goodness just under the skin.''