Their sweetest and hardest challenge yet?

Perhaps no food typifies autumn in Japan like the sweet potato. Various sweet potato products line the shelves while the tubers are in season and as the days get cooler, nothing beats a piping hot sweet potato that’s been roasted whole over hot stones.

It’s such a popular treat that it can be found in a wide range of places at a wide range of prices. For that reason, we thought it’d be an ideal candidate for the next Gourmet Writers’ Rating Check. This is where a panel of our experienced food-reviewing reporters try to distinguish which of two similar products is sold at a premium price.

Often this challenge is to ensure our writing team has the skills to identify what makes luxury food so great. However, this time it seems equally about finding if two vastly different-priced potatoes are even that different to begin with. After all, what we’re talking about is a potato that’s been cooked over hot stones — no special ingredients or seasonings and no state-of-the-art culinary technology.

And yet in one corner, we have a grilled sweet potato from Tsuboyaki-imo in Ginza that sells for a whopping 1,200 yen ($8). According to their website, their sweet potatoes are slow-roasted in a special pot to bring out a sweetness like candy.

In the other corner, we have a sweet potato from the major discount store chain Don Quijote, a store that would probably be called something like “Crazy Ernie’s” in a western country. Come to think of it, “Don Quijote” is really just a more literary version of that anyway. Their stone-roasted sweet potatoes sell for 214 yen ($1.43) and are a fair bit bigger.

▼ Don Quijote’s potato (left) and Tsuboyaki-imo’s potato (right), though you could probably have guessed that

When factoring the weight difference, the Tsuboyaki-imo potato is about 12 times more expensive than the Don Quijote one. It’s a considerable price gap since both offerings are little more than vegetables and heat, so can our writers possibly suss out the premium one?

As always, each writer is blindfolded and given a taste of each item, anonymously labelled A and B. After tasting they must choose which they think is the more expensive one and give their reasoning.

So, without further ado, let’s hear from the contestants!

▼ P.K. Sanjun: “B”

P.K.: “So, I kind of don’t know at all. There is definitely a difference. A has a slightly sour taste and B has no sourness at all. B is also sweeter and softer. I think the biggest difference is the time it takes to feel the sweetness. I took a little longer for A’s sweetness to come through, but B’s hit right away. I wonder if people who pay 1,200 yen for a sweet potato will tolerate waiting for their sweetness, so I’m going with B.”

▼ Go Hatori: “B”

Go: “Haha! I got this! I’m actually surprised by it. Was it mashed? It feels like a pastry chef pureed it and then put it back inside the skin. Also, I feel like I’ve had sweet potatoes like A before and I could feel the fibers of it. B, however, didn’t have any fibers in it. Because I feel like it’s mashed, I’m confident it’s B.”

Seiji Nakazawa: “A”

Seiji: “I actually like regular potatoes more than sweet potatoes. They feel like they get stuck in my throat. But these are both good roasted sweet potatoes. These two sweet potatoes have their differences, but which one is more expensive? A has a slightly sour taste. According to my Classy Department Store Food Section Theory, products that aren’t just purely sweet are more expensive. Given that, I think A is more expensive because it has a more complex flavor.”

Ahiruneko: “A”

Ahiruneko: “I don’t usually buy these things, but wow… A is really sticky. It’s like some kind of candy. I wonder if that would make it more expensive. But B is super sticky too. Um, are roasted sweet potatoes supposed to be this sticky? I’m choosing A because it seems to have a more thorough stickiness. I felt B was just on the edge of ‘super sticky’ but A was fully committed to it.”

Masanuki Sunakoma: “A”

Masanuki: “I love roasted sweet potatoes, and I sometimes get them from specialty stores. A has a sticky sweetness the lasts longer but B’s sweetness seems to disappear quickly. I also felt that B had a slightly unclear taste. Anyone who really likes sweet potatoes will enjoy the lingering taste of A. B was a little less sticky and had a slight bitterness to it. That and its sweetness disappeared quickly.”

▼ Mr. Sato: “A”

Mr. Sato: “This one is too difficult… I think even if I eat more I won’t know which one, but maybe it’s A? I was expecting to choose based on texture, but neither of them were rough. However, I felt that A was more densely sweeter. In that way, B seemed a little subtler, but maybe it’s because I drank coffee just before this. If I had to pay for it, I would choose A, but I’m not totally sure about it.”

▼ Takashi Harada: “B”

Takashi: “I don’t usually eat roasted sweet potatoes, but I do like them. A is delicious… But they’re both delicious… Maybe it’s B? Both are really sticky too. Who’d have thought they’d both be this sticky? I think B had the stronger sweetness. I think it’s more than you can get out of normal roasted sweet potatoes. I quit smoking 100 days ago and my taste buds have really sharpened since then.”

▼ Yoshio: “B”

Yoshio: “Oh, hey, I think I got this one. It’s pretty good and I think B is the expensive one. A was very sweet but had a slight sourness to it. It kind of tasted artificial. I’m not even exaggerating when I say B is like pudding. B has a pure sweetness and is really elegant. It was like no roasted sweet potato I’ve eaten before. I would want to give this to my family. It’s a really big difference.”

With all the votes tallied, the writers gathered in the office to hear the verdict. It was an even 4-4 split between A and B with a range of opinions on both sides. Go’s overflowing confidence in B was certainly compelling, but Seiji’s simple but flawless logic in choosing A was also hard to argue with.

In the end, the real premium potato is…

▼ A!!!

It was certainly interesting that every writer found such distinct differences between each shop’s sweet potato, but Don Quijote should feel pretty proud of themselves for offering such a convincingly good one for a fraction of the price.

Let’s take a moment and see who this round affected the overall gourmet writer ranking…

P.K.: 31 wins / 8 losses (79.4-percent correct rate): “B was so sweet I was sure that was it!”

Seiji: 26 wins / 7 losses (78.7-percent correct rate): “Classy Department Store Theory says it’s A!”

Ahiruneko: 23 wins / 11 losses (67.6-percent correct rate): “A was stickier!”

Go: 22 wins / 13 losses (62.8-percent correct rate): “B was like mashed potato! Mashed!”

Masanuki: 23 wins / 15 losses (60.5-percent correct rate): “A had a longer lasting sweetness!”

Mr. Sato: 19 wins / 14 losses (57.5-percent correct rate): “A was denser!”

Yoshio: 16 wins / 16 losses (50-percent correct rate): “B was just like pudding!”

Takashi: 17 wins / 18 losses (48.8-percent correct rate): “B had an unusual stickiness!”

Will Seiji take advantage of this momentum and reclaim his top spot in the rankings? Or will they both feel the heat from a rapidly rising start named Mr. Sato? Whatever happens, hopefully, Takashi can stay off the cigarettes and allow his taste buds to recover further until the next installment of Gourmet Writer’s Rating Check!

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