|Alternative names||Ipomoea batatas|
|Grows in||China, United States, Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Uganda, Tanzania|
|The UK imports from||United States and Spain|
|Short history||The crop is native to Central America and South America. Domesticated sweet potatoes were present in Mexico and Peru at least 5,000 years ago, as evidenced by relics found in caves. Sweet potatoes were taken across the Pacific Ocean to Polynesia by around 1000 AD, beginning the dispersal of the crop throughout Oceania and Asia. Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas in 1492 resulted in the sweet potato being brought to Spain. From there, the sweet potato spread to Australia, Germany, Belgium and England. It was considered a delicacy and was hugely popular with Henry VIII.|
|Top health benefits|
Sweet potato has been a staple in many countries for years. In China, Korea and Japan, roasted sweet potato is a popular street food in winter. Thanksgiving in the United States traditionally includes a side of candied sweet potatoes. The ingredient is used abundantly in other forms throughout the year. Its high vitamin content makes sweet potato an essential source of nutrition in East Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. The UK, on the other hand, have just recently embarked on “Our Newfound Love Affair with The Sweet Potato.”
The crop plant has a longstanding association with saving lives: it is often the first crop to be planted after a natural disaster and it reaches maturity quickly, providing calories and nutrients for affected populations. In fact, sweet potato is known as “the protector of children” (cilera abana) in East Africa. In this region, climate change is increasing the incidence of floods and droughts, whilst changing the timing and length of growing seasons. Crops like sweet potato are likely to be affected, posing a threat to food security.
Sweet potato can be a direct replacement for jacket potato or fries. In its yellow, orange and purple forms, it can also provide a sweet kick as a smoothie base. Yet, the sweet potato’s versatility does not end there, as illustrated by the recipes below.
- Sweet potato toast with smashed avocado
Slicing the sweet potato and sticking it into a toaster is a radically simple cooking method. The toasted sweet potato slices can be paired with a range of savoury or sweet toppings. I opted for smashed avocado with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, thyme and a dash of chilli pepper. Other tempting savoury toppings include poached or fried eggs, black beans and a range of hard or soft cheeses. For the sweet-toothed, chocolate spreads, peanut butter or jams topped with berries and fruits also work well. Alternatively, try a Ugandan breakfast dish, which consists of sun-dried sweet potato slices with peanut sauce.
- Spicy roasted sweet potato and kale salad
This colourful salad is filling and nutritious. Cumin and cayenne pepper coat the roasted sweet potato, providing a healthy dose of spice to balance the subtle sweetness. Kale, when massaged with olive oil, becomes a soft and appealing salad base. The tahini dressing works well in this instance, though other flavours would do too. Be generous with the pecans to finish off the salad; you will not be disappointed!
- Sweet potato, chickpea and spinach coconut curry
This curry dish is evidence that sweet potato and coconut are a pairing that is difficult to contend with. Add garlic, fresh ginger and turmeric to the mix to solidify the powerful flavour. Chickpeas provide an important protein and iron boost to the vegetarian dish, especially when accompanied by the spinach in the sauce. Try the curry with rice, quinoa or bulgur wheat, depending on the season and occasion.