The sweet potato is a plant that is a member of the morning glory family, grown for its sweet, edible, tuberous roots.
Sweet and regular potatoes are both considered root vegetables but are only distantly related. Both are tuberous, starchy root vegetables, but they’re not part of the same botanical group – members of the potato’s extended family include tomatoes and peppers, while the closest relation to the sweet potato is the morning glory flower.
The origin and domestication of sweet potato occurred in either Central or South America.
In Central America, domesticated sweet potatoes were present at least 5,000 years ago.
They spread very early throughout the region, including the Caribbean and what is now the southeastern United States.
The first Europeans to taste sweet potatoes were members of Christopher Columbus’s expedition in 1492. Christopher Columbus liked the vegetable so much that on his fourth voyage, he took some home to grow in Europe.
From Spain they were spread through the warmer regions of Europe.
The crop was introduced into China in the late 16th century and spread through Asia, Africa, and Latin America during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The sweet potato became a favorite food item of the French and Spanish settlers and thus continued a long history of cultivation in Louisiana.
The sweet potato is a herbaceous, perennial vine. The stems are usually long and trailing and bear lobed or unlobed leaves that vary in shape. The flowers, borne in clusters in the axils of the leaves, are funnel-shaped and tinged with pink or rose-violet.
The edible part is the much-enlarged tuberous root, varying in shape from fusiform to oblong or pointed oval. Root colours range from white to orange and occasionally purple inside and from light buff to brown or rose and purplish red outside.
The plant does not tolerate frost. It grows best at an average temperature of 24 °C (75 °F), abundant sunshine and warm nights.
The sweet potato is widely cultivated in tropical and warm temperate climates and is an important food crop in the southern United States, tropical America and the Caribbean, the warmer islands of the Pacific, Japan, and parts of Russia.
All varieties of sweet potato are good sources of vitamins C and E as well as dietary fiber, potassium, and iron, and they are low in fat and cholesterol. The orange-and red-fleshed forms of sweet potato are particularly high in beta-carotene, the vitamin A precursor.
There are 92 calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of sweet potatoes.
This cheerfully colored, versatile root vegetable can be boiled, baked, roasted, fried or barbecued.
The sweet potato, especially the orange variety, is often called a “yam“ in parts of North America, but is botanically very distinct from true yams.
Sweet potato is ranked seventh in global food crop production and is the third most important root crop after potato and cassava.
China is today’s acknowledged leader in world sweet potato production. North Carolina is No. 1 in U.S. production.
The International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru holds the largest sweet potato gene bank in the world with more than 6,500 wild, traditional, and improved varieties. Many of these are unique to a particular country or region.
Before George Washington became a general and the first U.S. President, he was a sweet potato farmer.
The world’s heaviest sweet potato weighed 37 kg (81 lb 9 oz) on 8 March 2004 and was grown by Manuel Pérez Pérez (Spain) in Güime, Lanzarote, Spain.
If handled gently, unwashed sweet potatoes can store well for weeks or even months in a dry, cool location.
Sweet potatoes are only washed right before cooking because moisture promotes spoilage.
Fresh sweet potatoes stored in a refrigerator develop an off-taste and a hard core in the center.