Sweet potatoes are not potatoes. And they aren’t yams either. The whole matter involves a series of bad translations starting back with Columbus’ expedition in 1492. But they sure are sweet! They’re always a savory and creamy carbohydrate to incorporate into your diet. In parts of the world the sweet potato is a staple food – and rightfully so, as they are a nutritionally dense vegetable.
Sweet potatoes are the tuberous roots of a plant called Ipomoea batatas. You can eat the leaves of the plant but they are nutritionally negligible compared to the roots. The sweet potato is only distantly related to potatoes. Potatoes are a nightshade and sweet potatoes aren’t. The sweet potato is actually more closely related to a morning glory.
The sweet potato originated in South America. Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating back to 8000 BC have been found. Around 700 AD the sweet potato made its way to Polynesia. These days, most sweet potatoes come from China. In the United States, North Carolina leads in sweet potato production and is the state vegetable. Of all the 1,000’s of species of sweet potatoes, only a few are grown in agriculture. Many kinds of sweet potatoes are actually poisonous.
So, is a sweet potato a yam?
Yes and no. Yes, if you are in North America and you want to get a sweet potato. No, if you are anywhere else in the world. Then a yam refers to Dioscorea, an African and Asian plant that has a root called a yam, which is completely different than a sweet potato.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other staple foods. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamin A and potassium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value.
Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C. While most people know that vitamin C is important to help ward off cold and flu viruses, few people are aware that vitamin C plays an important role in bone and tooth formation, digestion, and blood cell formation.
When you bake sweet potatoes something happens on the micronutrient level that produces more vitamin C… 24% more in fact! Sweet potatoes have a boat load of vitamin C anyway, but why not get more?