Purple yam, a solution for food insecurity and malnutrition | Sunday Observer

Purple yam, a solution for food insecurity and malnutrition

10 October, 2021

Purple yam (Dioscoreaalata L) which is locally known as Raja Ala, Dandina Alaor Rasavallik Kizhangu is a neglected and underutilised food in Sri Lanka which deserves raising awareness among the public to fight food insecurity and malnutrition. The country will have to deal with the latter issues which can occur as a result of hampered food production and income-earning opportunitieswhich can impact food and nutrition security in thefuture.

In general, yams are known for their high content of carbohydrate and calorie. Yams have been identified as a crop with potential for fighting hunger and malnutrition and have contributed to the food security and livelihood sustainability in many under-developed and developing countries. As per International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the global annual consumption of yam is placed at 18 million tons.

Additionally, some yams have been used for preventing and treating diseases. Hence, the cultivation as well as the consumption of them can be recommended.

Purple yam, as the name suggests is purple, the origin of which is South Asia. The yam is grown in South America, Africa and in some parts of Australia. In Sri Lanka, this yam is grown in wet as well as dry zones. As per the Department of Agriculture, purple yam is largely grown as a commercial crop in the Moneragala, Jaffna and Anuradhapura districts.

The Department of Agriculture said that the yield can be obtained after eight months of cultivation of purple yam. Some 30 to 37 metric tons of yield can be obtained in a hectare from the dry zone alone. The advantages are that the irrigation for the cultivation is required in moderation and the damage to the crop by pests is low.

Nutrition and health benefits

Yam’s potential as a source of food is attributed to its high levels of carbohydrates including fibre,starch and sugar, contributing about 200 dietary calories per person per day (Genomics of Tropical Crop Plants.

Plant Genetics and Genomics: Crops and Models). Hence, purple yam can be recommended as a good source of energy. This yam also contains nutrients such as proteins, lipids, vitamins andminerals.

Studies have found that anumber of bioactive compounds such as flavonoids, phenols, alkaloids and tannins is present in purple yam.

This yam also contains antioxidants and improves immunity. It is also estrogenic and angiotensin. According to studies,purple yam can be used as a treatment for inflammatory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, aging disorders, menopause, cancers and osteoporosis.

How to consume?

Although less popular in Sri Lanka, this versatile tuber has a wide range of culinary uses. Boiled purple yam with grated coconut is mainly consumed in Sri Lanka. Some prepare purple yam porridge while others make the yam into a curry. Apart from these methods of consuming purple yam, other ways of use are not popular.

As part of the research, the writer could develop a fusion dish named Purple Yam Milk Rice (Raja Ala Kiri bath/ Rasavallik Kizhangu Partsoru) by incorporating purple yam into Sri Lanka’s indigenous milk rice (Kiribath).

Other exclusive recipes that the writer could develop were Purple Yam Aggala, Purple Yam Cutlet and Purple Yam Gnanakatha (cookies).

Although new to Sri Lanka, purple yam jam is a popular dish in Philippines. Sri Lankan Pol Roti can also be made with purple yam.

To prepare Roti, boiled and mashed purple yam is used instead of flour and mix with scraped coconut. Aggala can also be made with mashed purple yam by adding scraped coconut, salt and little ground pepper and by shaping them into balls.

The writer is engaged in a research to develop and innovate recipes with less known edible plants in Sri Lanka as a solution to food insecurity and malnutrition.

Purple yam cookies


Boiled and mashed purple yam 2 cups

Icing sugar 1 cup

Butter 1 cup


Mix all the ingredients to form a soft dough. Make lime-sized balls from the dough.

Pre-heat the oven to 200F. Lay a parchment paper on the baking tray and flatten the small pieces of dough. Sprinkle sugar over them. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Purple yam milk rice


Suvandel rice 250g

Purple yam 150g

First extract coconut milk 3 cups

Water 4 cups


Cardamom – crushed ½ teaspoon


Wash purple yam well to remove all the dirt. Pare the outer skin, dice the yam into small pieces and wash well again.

Wash Suvandel rice and add to a clay pot. Add the diced purple yam, water, crushed cardamom and salt

Cook under medium heat until the rice and yam are cooked. Then add first extract coconut milk and mix well.

Let it cook until the coconut milk is well absorbed into the cooked yam and rice mix. Remove from heat and spread over a banana leaf.

Cut into pieces of desired size. Serve with fish or chicken curry or Lunu Miris.

Purple yam cutlet


Sri Lankan tinned fish (Salmon) – 1 tin (Approx: 425g)

Purple yam- 250g

Spring onions- 10

Garlic - 3 cloves

Ginger- 1 inch piece

Curry leaves 1 sprig

Green chili- 5-6

Crushed pepper- 1 teaspoon

Juiced lime

Egg – 1

Bread crumbs – 100g

Salt as per taste

Coconut oil to deep fry cutlets


Wash the purple yam and dice into small pieces. Was again and boil until the yam becomes mashy.

Using a food processor, blitz green chili, curry leaves, garlic and ginger. Finely chop spring onions.

Once the purple yam pieces are well boiled, strain water and let the pieces dry awhile. In a large bowl, add tinned fish and boiled purple yam and mash them. Add ground pepper and salt.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil in a pan. Add chopped onions. Sauté for a couple of minutes and add the blitzed green chilli, curry leaves, ginger and garlic mix. Cook until the onions become translucent and the raw smell of ingredients is gone. Add mashed tinned fish and purple yam mix. Cook for about five minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool. Shape the mix into balls.

Dip the balls in whisked egg mix and then coat with bread crumbs.

Heat coconut oil in a large wok. Deep fry cutlets in medium heat. Once the cutlets turn golden brown, remove them from oil and place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.