A few days ago I opened a pack of Proper Crisps Kumara crisps and wondered if something had gone wrong, some of the crisps were a colour I hadn’t seen before and I thought maybe an over-cooked crisp or two had made it past the checking line, so I got in touch with one of the Head Potatoes at Proper Crisps, Mina Smith, just to let her know I had found something unusual.
As it turns out I had found something unusual, but in a very good way, they have been using a brand new variety of Kumara in their crisp blend and Mina invited me to check out their recently expanded factory and to find out more about this new vegetable variety, the Purple Dawn Kumara that is a new variety of kumara bred by Plant & Food Research Ltd.
They have a purple skin and flesh so looked a lot darker in the packet of crisps and Mina told me this variety isn’t as sweet as other varieties and are prefect for turning into crisps, she also put me in touch with Master Chef winner Brett McGregor who is working with Kaipara Kumara to develop recipes and promote new varieties of kumara they are producing.
When I talked with Brett he told me that the colour is so intense the crisps look like they could be beetroot crisps but the deep red is the original colour, they aren’t over-cooked and certainly aren’t beetroot.
McGregor is an important link between Kaipara Kumara and Proper Crisps, he has been a fan of the natural crisps made by Proper Crisps for a long time and was instrumental in developing the relationship between them and Kaipara Kumara a few years ago.
He has been working with Kaipara Kumara as their ambassador for the last five years, “the first time I visited them I took a kumara out of the ground and ate it like an apple, it was so delicious it became the catalyst for looking for other things to do with Kumara.
“I approached Proper Crisps and together we have produced what I think is the world’s best sweet potato or kumara crisp, there are no nasties or flavour enhancers, they are just dusted with natural sea salt or chipotle and garlic, and I’m yet to taste a better sweet potato or kumara crisp.”
He told me “the colour of the new Purple Dawn kumara is really vibrant and like other dark red fruits and vegetables it is incredibly high in anti-oxidants, we want to retain that goodness in the finished product and that means it comes out looking darker than some people expect.
“Unlike some purple potatoes that lose colour when they are cooked this particular kumara retains its vivid purple so if you roast it whole, use it in a mash or make soup with it you get a really vibrant dark purple result.
“One of the reasons this Purple Dawn kumara is so good to use is that it is a little bit starchier and not as sweet as the original red kumara people are used to.”
I also had a chat with Anthony Blundell from Kaipara Kumara, one of New Zealand’s oldest and largest commercial kumara growers, and he told me the industry has been working with Plant & Food Research Ltd to develop other kumara varieties too, “kumara is such a wonderful food having versions that offer different things to the consumer, just like different potatoes do, makes it exciting for the consumer in New Zealand and, as we develop bigger seed stocks, the rest of the world too.”
Purple Dawn is a Plant & Food Research Ltd developed varietal, while there have been limited cultivations for the last ten years while growers have been scaling up production they have been quietly introducing it to the market, “you can’t just grow a huge amount of something and expect people to buy it, we needed to expand production as demand grew and Proper Crisps have been an important part of us getting Purple Dawn into consumers hands.”
“When it comes to our relationship with Proper Crisps we love the fact they respect our products and do their best to get it to consumers in as natural a state as possible for a cooked product, they really focus on their crisps being a natural and healthy snack choice.”
“Purple Dawn has taken off as a variety, from a growers perspective the yield is quite good, from an aesthetic point of view there is a clear differential between the main varieties and we have found consumers like those differences.
Kaipara Kumara have been growing kumara in Northland since 1970 and Blundell told me they have four customers “who make up about 98% of our turnover so relationships are really important to us and Proper Crisps are an important good fit for us, they are fantastic people to work with.”
As an industry kumara production is expanding each year and Blundell says they expect it to triple next year as these new varieties are generating consumer interest.
At Proper Crisps Emma Tuohy, who is responsible for marketing, says consumers have grown to understand the Proper Crisps production philosophy “we are telling the story of seasonal varieties because our products do change with seasonal influences, we are working with nature to create beautiful products so there is a story about the seasons in every pack.”
Every pack changes with the season, even the agria potato they use changes with seasons, just consider new season vs stored potatoes, “when people contact us to say they are different we see that as a compliment because they notice the seasonal differences and we love talking to people about it.”
Mina says their customers are totally vested in their products and care about what they are doing, “they take the time and make the effort to contact us and we take that seriously, we love hearing from our customers.”
Tuohy said one customer contacted them saying ‘I just wanted kumara and you gave me beetroot, what is going on’, “it’s not like rice crispies where they are the same every pack, every pack of Proper Crisps will be different based on seasonal influences but especially with our kumara and garden medley blends because we use the very best product we can get at the time.
Orange Sunset is another kumara variety bred by Plant & Food Research Ltd, and a small amount is available now while growers are building up seed stocks, so you are likely to find yet another variety in your next pack of seasonal Proper Crisps Kumara Crisps.