Dietribes: The Sweet Potato

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I was averse to the idea of the sweet potato for many years before recently giving it another shot. But after one glorious, butter and cinnamon laden mouthful ... BAM! It's now one my favorite foods, whether baked, roasted or in fry form. Here are some facts about this orange delight, an incredibly healthy food, and a great way to get fiber, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.

"¢ The sweet potato's earliest cultivation is thought to date back to around 750 BC in South America. Slowly making its way up through Central America and eventually into the awareness of explorers such as Christopher Columbus, the sweet potato crossed continents and became a favorite among Elizabethan-era English, who enjoyed its natural sweetness in times of sugar scarcity.

"¢ Speaking of which, here is a discussion of Shakespeare's mention of the tasty tater in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

sweet-potato-2.jpg"¢ A staple of personal crops grown in the South, the sweet potato has long been used as a substitute for coffee, with pieces being dried, parched, ground, and brewed. Though Vardaman, Mississippi, claims to be the Sweet Potato Capital of the World, approximately 90% of the worlds' crop is grown in Asia, and is the 6th principal world food crop (more facts here).

"¢ According to History of Food, "The people of the Antilles make a drink from the sweet potato, ouycou, from a Caribbean Indian recipe. The Empress Josephine tried to bring the sweet potato back into fashion "“ Louis XV had been very fond of it "“ but its 'exotic' flavour put off the general public, who preferred ordinary and more plebeian Potato."

"¢ Forget the peanut. George Washington Carver came up with 118 different ways of using Sweet Potatoes, including as starch, tapioca, mock coconuts, molasses, breakfast foods, flour, ink and synthetic rubber. Additionally, the ocarina is often referred to as a sweet potato because of its shape and "sweet" sound. (Gamer Fact: the ocarina is the instrument played by Link in the Legend of Zelda).

"¢ What is the difference between a Sweet Potato and a Yam? They are members of different botanical families, but are frequently confused. For a start, Yams have more starch and less sugar than sweet potatoes. For a little etymology on the word "yam," SweetPotato.org says "African slaves in the South called the sweet potato 'nyami' because it reminded them of the starchy, edible tuber of that name that grew in their homeland. The Senegalese word 'nyami' was eventually shortened to the word 'yam.'"

What's your favorite way to eat a sweet potato? Do you cover it with marshmallows? Any recipes to share?
[Previous Dietribes: Strawberries, Macaroni & Cheese, McIntosh Apples, Smoothies, Coffee]

'Dietribes' appears every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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March 5, 2008 - 2:14am
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