Sweet Potato information, history and recipes
sweet potato (genus Ipomoea) belongs to the Convolvulaceae family which
includes ornamental flowering plants such as Morning Glory. The most popular
edible species Ipomoea batatas I. batatas is a crop plant which produces
large, tapered, starchy, sweet-tasting tuberous roots. They have a relatively
smooth, usually reddish skin and its flesh can be white, yellow, orange or
purple depending on the variety.
Note from the Editor
Before starting the usual editorial I feel very strongly that clarification is
required regarding its name.
For some reason (mainly) in the USA, sweet potato is also called Yam … it is NOT
A YAM. It’s entirely unrelated both botanically and in taste. Being from West
Indian parentage, I have grown up eating both yam and sweet potatoes on a fairly
regular basis….I still do, which is why I feel so bewildered at how anyone can
make such an error. Certainly, if I was expecting sweet potatoes and someone
served me up Yam instead I’d be very disappointed. Read about
Origin and History of Sweet Potatoes
Archaeological evidence shows that sweet potatoes are native to
South America are have been cultivated there for over 5000 years. In fact,
fossilised sweet potatoes found in the Andes region have been dated between
8,000 and 10,000 years old.
The Incas and Maya civilisations are known to have grown several varieties: some
varieties were grown for food and other varieties were grown to extract
colouring materials for artists.
It is also known to have been cultivated in Polynesia as early as
1200 A.D. and was already a principle food source of the Maoris in New Zealand
by the time of Captain Cook arrived there 1769.
Although the sweet potato is native to South America,
its spread to other parts of the world
including the Caribbean was rapid although exactly how they spread is still an
issue which causes much debate amongst geneticists and archaeologists.
Europeans feel the sweet potato is a relatively new import to Europe, however it
may interest you to know that Columbus introduced them to Europe from the West
Indies in the 1400's and that they were cultivated in Spain as early as
1500 A.D. Furthermore, Henry VIII (he of many wives fame) is purported to have
been extremely fond of them, having received some as part of Catherine of
Aragon’s dowry. It is also said that he’d set an ongoing competition for any
gardener in England who could grow them successfully – a task no one managed.
believed that Spanish explorers took the sweet potato to the Philippines and
East Indies, from where it easily spread to India, China, and Malaya, probably
with the assistance of Portuguese traders. By 1648 they had been introduced to
North America and were possibly the most important single crop in sustaining
Americans through such difficult times such as the American Revolution and Civil
War. It gained similar recognition in n China, where the sweet potato sustained
the nation through a number of droughts which devastated native grain staples.
the 18th century, sweet potatoes were included in many European agricultural
annotations being described as a versatile crop which could be prepared in
numerous ways and fed to humans and animals alike and although they seemed to
have dropped from favour for quite some time, certainly in the UK at least, they
can now be found on many supermarket shelves.