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Recipe: Japanese daigaku imo (Candied Sweet Potatoes)

Posted on 10/8/2019 12:00:00 AM in The Buzz

With a sweet glaze and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, daigaku imo has been a crowd pleasing snack in Japan for more than a century.

Candy-coated on the outside and creamy in the middle, Japanese daigaku imo is the perfect sweet treat or afternoon snack on a chilly autumn day. As just one of many Japanese dishes featuring sweet potatoes, this dish glazes the root vegetable in a sugary syrup for a delightful burst of flavor. Made by frying bite-size sweet potato chunks in honey and soy sauce until caramelized, it’s a slightly healthier alternative to other sugary eats.

To know where this dish comes from, look no further than the name itself which translates to “university potatoes.” The story goes that the candied sweet potatoes were a popular snack among university students in Tokyo during the the early 1900s. Because potato were an affordable crop, it made for a cheap afternoon pick-me-up and source of fuel for late night studying. The idea for this dish is said to have come from a similar Chinese snack, but it quickly gained fame in Japan. Today, daigaku imo continues to be a popular food among students and is often sold at school festivals or by street vendors.

Traditional Japanese sweet potatoes are slightly different than the orange variety typically found in the U.S., with the Japanese form having a purplish skin. This nutrient-rich potato is a staple food for the Okinawa islands of Japan, home to some of the healthiest and longest-living people on Earth. While these types of sweet potatoes can be found in some U.S. supermarkets, the common orange variety can certainly be substituted when recreating this dish.

Whether you chose to cook up the coated sweet potatoes for a side dish or a dessert, it will no doubt fill you with the warmth and comfort needed when the temperatures drop.

Daigaku Imo


2 medium sweet potatoes
1 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. sugar
½ tsp soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. of vegetable oil


  1. Wash the surface of the potatoes thoroughly, making sure to remove any dirt or roots. Cut and discard the tips of the potatoes, then cut each potato into bite-sized chunks.

  2. Submerge the potato chunks into a bowl of water, and soak for at least 1 hour. This step is essential to remove excess starch and prevent potatoes from burning while they are frying.

  3. Drain the water and pat dry with a kitchen towel.

  4. Heat a large frying pan and add in 1 Tbsp. of oil. Mix in the potato pieces and fry over medium-low heat, flipping and moving the potatoes consistently to prevent burning. Once cooked through and slightly brown, remove from heat and let cool.

  5. Pour 2 Tbsp. of sugar, 1 Tbsp. of honey, and ½ tsp. of soy sauce into another pan, and heat over medium-low. Stir continuously until a syrupy mixture is formed.

  6. Add in the potatoes and mix evenly into the syrup. Once they are well-coated, remove from heat, place potatoes onto a wax-paper lined tray, and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

Taste the delight of daigaku imo from the streets of Tokyo—just like the students do—when you join O.A.T. for Japan’s Cultural Treasures.

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