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Tiny Mukago Potatoes
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Mukago are very small, aerial tubers, most averaging the size of shelled English peas. Mukago ranges from spherical to ovate in shape and have a dark brown-gray, slightly russeted skin. Mukago has a texture and flavor that is slightly similar to Japanese taro.
Mukago potatoes are available in the autumn months.
Mukago are the small, aerial tubers or bulbils of the yamaimo or Japanese yam plant, the plant itself is botanically classified as Dioscorea japonica. The yamaimo also known as mountain potato is best known for its large underground tuber which can take up to three or four years to mature, while Mukago are the edible aerial seeds of the yamaimo plant, which can be harvested annually. Once harvested they can either be planted to grow yamaimo root, or they can be utilized as a food source as is.
The mature root of the yamaimo plant is said to contain vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The bulbils of the plant or Mukago are thought to offer some of these nutrients as well.
In Japan, Mukago potatoes are traditionally steamed with rice and served as is or pressed into a mold to form a shape. Mukago is also commonly boiled or steamed and added to miso soup or even eaten raw. Mukago potatoes also will achieve a nice crunch on their skin when fried. Mukago potatoes pair well with miso, gingko nuts, peanuts, soy sauce, white rice, garlic, parsley, butter, kombu, and sake. Mukago should keep for several weeks if stored in a cool, dry, and dark place. Wrapping them in paper will help to prevent them from molding and prematurely spoiling.
In Japanese Mukago translates to mean, little auxiliary tuber of Dioscorea. Mukago are known as a “wild mountain vegetable”, a group of vegetables that are popularly foraged for in Japan when in season. Native Ibarakians in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan still often refer to the Mukago by their ancient name, Nukago. In English, these petite tubers are known as wild yam propagules for the way the plant is known to propagate by dropping its seeds, the Mukago, to the ground.
The yamaimo plant which produces Mukago is believed to be native to Japan, China, and Korea. Mukago potatoes can be found growing wild in the mountains of Japan, along forest edges, along rivers, or occasionally in a city park. They are also grown in home gardens both for their large yams and for the petite Mukago they produce. Mukago are tedious to harvest as they easily fall off the vines when jostled so placing a sheet or umbrella under the plant to catch the falling tubers is recommended.