The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the morning glory family Convolvulaceae.
Its large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots are a root vegetable. In some parts of the English-speaking world, sweet potatoes are locally known by other names, including "yam" and “kumara”.
The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. The sweet potato is only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum) and does not belong to the nightshade family Solanaceae, but that family is part of the same taxonomic order as sweet potatoes, the Solanales.
In 1543 DeSoto’s Spanish explorers found sweet potatoes growing in “Indian gardens” in what became Louisiana. The sweet potatoes were also cultivated in the Carolina area of North America before the European colonization.
In Colonial days sweet potatoes were an item of trade and were shipped from the Carolinas out to northern cities. The potato was an essential food for all the colonies in the days before modern means of preservation. This root crop kept hunger from the doors of many generations of our ancestors. During the trying times of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars it was a staple food. A Colonial physician recommended sweet potatoes especially for children because of the sweet potatoes’ value in combating childhood nutritional diseases. It supplemented the limited diet of the slave population from late summer until spring time.
Sweet potatoes are an amazingly nutritious vegetable.
A medium-sized sweet potato is virtually fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free and provides more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A, along with high levels of protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6, folic acid, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and beta carotene.
In fact, there are many who claim the sweet potato is the single most nutritious vegetable grown on the planet. While it is often ignored in the United States today, during the first two centuries of European settlement in North America, sweet potatoes were prized by colonists and European royalty alike, prescribed by doctors as a perfect food for children, and highly valued by mariners who were concerned about scurvy and food storage.
Although most nutritional calculations are based upon the measurements of cooked pulp, the edible skins of sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and are eaten with enthusiasm in many households. The skin does in fact contain even higher amounts of many of the sweet potato’s legendary nutritional elements such as beta carotene.