What Is Boniato, and How Is It Used?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

what is boniato

Getty Images / zeleno 

Boniato isn't as sweet as other sweet potatoes, and it may not be widely known, but its got quite a globe-trotting history. It's one of the most popular potatoes in the Caribbean islands, where it thrives and is believed to predate the Europeans who arrived there. Asia, however, can currently claim the largest production of bonito, thanks to the Eastern explorers who returned home with it.

It's traveled the world and for good reason. Boniato is incredibly versatile, something of a cross between a white potato and a sweet potato that is popular in the U.S.

What Is Boniato?

A boniato is a tuber—a sweet potato with dry, white flesh and pink to purple skin. If you think that this makes it a yam, you'd be wrong. Yams are in an entirely separate genus, and yes, this is confusing.

The name loosely derives from "harmless" in Spanish, a significant tag. Spanish explorers encountered many poisonous native foods and plants when they first arrived in the islands. Their name for these sweet potatoes distinguished them as a food that could be safely consumed.

Boniato doesn't require any specific prep; you can use it as you would any other potato. Wash it thoroughly beforehand. Whether you decide to peel it or not is up to you—and/or whatever the recipe calls for.

Boniato is also known as a batata, Cuban sweet potato, white yam, Florida yam, camote, kamote, Caribbean sweet potato, or kumara—but again, it's not a yam. It is also very similar in appearance and taste to what's referred to as a Japanese or oriental sweet potato.

The illustration highlights various key aspects of the boniato sweet potato
The Spruce / Melissa Ling 

How to Cook With Boniato 

This tuber can be used in just about any sweet potato recipe, in sweet and savory applications. It's great baked and stuffed, roasted, mashed, and so forth. You can also fry, boil, or puree it.

What Does It Taste Like?

This particular potato resembles a cross between a white and a sweet potato, insofar as it is starchy and a little sweet, but its predominant flavor is a nuttiness that you cannot find in either—almost like chestnuts. It is denser than a sweet potato, and its fluffy texture renders it a great candidate for baking.

Boniato Recipes

In North America, it's common for a recipe to specify what kind of potato to use—russet, red, sweet, or Yukon gold, for example. Boniato, however, is widely used in Caribbean cooking. In terms of introducing it into your kitchen, think of it this way: It is a potato without borders. Cook with it as you would any white or sweet potato.

Boniato is often paired with pork along with a variety of vegetables, including eggplant and arugula. You might find it served on the islands with goat cheese and raisins (or both), or used as an ingredient in soups, stews, or desserts. It's also a perfect topping for pizzas and tacos.

Where to Buy Boniato

Depending on where you live, you might find it difficult to source a boniato in your neighborhood mega-market. It's mostly available in international grocers that cater to Latin American and Asian populations.

The same rules apply for spotting a good boniato as it does for other potatoes. Look for a tuber that is firm and without any soft spots, and try to use it within a week because it bruises easily and doesn't take to storage as well as other potatoes.

Look for a smaller to medium-sized boniato when you're shopping to ensure even cooking if you're baking it whole. It may seem like odd advice, but it's going to be heavier than you expect; it is a dense potato.

Storage

The ideal storage temperature for boniato is between 45 F and 50 F. The tuber's typical shelf life is up to 10 days if you keep it in a dry, cool place, but it will start losing flavor within a few days. This process can be accelerated if you refrigerate it—better to simply tuck the potato in your pantry. 

Nutrition and Benefits

Boniato is a staple of the Caribbean diet not only because it's abundant on the islands, but because it also packs a nutritional wallop. it's rich in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and a slew of antioxidants. It has a high fiber content, which means it's filling—an indispensable advantage in times of famine throughout history.