Where did sweet potatoes come from?
Can you imagine a big brontosaurus or a hungry cave man snacking on a sugary sweet potato? It really could have happened, because many people think that yams have been around since prehistoric times. That would make them one of the oldest foods we still eat today.
When the explorer Christopher Columbus landed on our shores in 1492, the Native Americans were growing sweet potatoes. That’s almost 300 years before the United States even became a country! Columbus and his men loved the tasty yams so much that they brought them back to Europe to grow their own. Long after Columbus left, sweet potatoes kept getting more popular. The Pilgrims and Indians ate them in the first Thanksgiving feast. There are stories of sweet potatoes being grown in the South as early as the year 1648. In fact, did you know that before George Washington became our first president, he was a sweet potato farmer? It’s true! Today, people all over the world love the delicious, nutritious sweet potato.
The sweet potato says, “I yam what I yam.”
Some people call these vegetables “yams.” Other people call them “sweet potatoes.” Both are right. So call it whichever you like; it’s still the same yummy treat.
One thing you might not know is that a sweet potato is not a potato at all (like the kind used to make French fries). They are so different that they’re not even related. Sweet potatoes are actually the root of the plant. They are part of the morning glory family, and their viny plants have purple flowers. True potatoes, like white, brown or red ones, are called “tubers.” They are the underground part of the stem of their plant.
What makes Louisiana sweet potatoes so tasty?
The weather in Louisiana is very warm with lots of sunshine and plenty of rain, too. The fertile soil in Louisiana is also filled with the minerals and nutrients that sweet potato plants love. When sweet potatoes grow in our warm, moist soil, they become sweeter and juicier than sweet potatoes grown in other parts of the United States. The variety of sweet potato that is mostly grown in Louisiana is called the “Beauregard” (pronounced “BO-re-gard”). This delicious type of sweet potato is what people all are craving when they ask for Louisiana yams.
Very good and very good for you!
They are as sweet as candy and bright as copper, but those are not the only good things about sweet potatoes. In the vegetable world, they are champs! A research company in the United States measured the nutritional value of different vegetables and rated sweet potatoes as the #1 most nutritional vegetable.* Yams have more nutrients than even spinach or broccoli! Sweet potatoes are very high in vitamin E and vitamin C. They also have lots of beta carotene, vitamin B6, iron, potassium and fiber. People who try to watch the amount of fatty foods they eat love sweet potatoes because they have almost no fat at all! Eating lots of sweet potatoes can also help reduce the chance of getting heart disease and cancer.
* Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
George Washington Carver: the sweet potato superhero!
You know that George Washington was the first U.S. President. You may have also learned that he was a sweet potato farmer before becoming president. But there was another famous American with almost the same name who spent much of his life helping us find ways to grow and enjoy the sweet potato and other crops.
George Washington Carver was an African-American man born in Missouri in 1864. When he was a boy, he was not very strong and his family did not have a lot of money. But he was determined to get an education and help other poor black farmers in the South. He studied hard about farming and nutrition, and he began to think of new ways that poor black farmers could earn more money. One of the most important things he thought of was to plant sweet potatoes and peanuts in soil that was worn out from growing cotton. When the farmers tried this, they discovered that these new crops could grow very well in that kind of soil, but they had one question: “Who is going to buy all of these sweet potatoes and peanuts?” George Washington Carver was hard at work finding answers to this question. Using many, many experiments, he worked to create new uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes by doing different things with them and combining them with other foods. His hard work was a success. He made 300 different new products from peanuts and about 100 new products from sweet potatoes! Flour, ink, starch, synthetic rubber, tapioca, vinegar, a type of glue for postage stamps and 500 shades of textile dye were all made from sweet potatoes! He really showed the world how important these crops could be. For most of his life, Carver was a college teacher and a scientist at the Tuskegee Institute of Alabama. He continued to help farmers find better ways to grow crops and to find more new ways to use them. He died in 1943 as a true American hero.
Bet you didn’t know…
The sweet potato has a history as colorful as its bright orange flesh. Here are some things you might not know about our friend the delicious yam:
- Some doctors in Colonial times recommended sweet potatoes, especially for children, because of the vegetable’s value in preventing childhood disease.
- During the Civil War, the supply of some foods in the South started to run low. When coffee became hard to get, the sweet potato was used to make a tasty hot drink. It was cut into thin pieces, dried, ground and brewed just like coffee!
- Nearly every large farm in the South had a sweet potato patch during the Civil War. This was a large area with a fence around it where hills of yams were covered with straw and soil. This covering protected the sweet potatoes from the cold and frost of winter, helping them become sweet and tasty.
How to grow a sweet potato houseplant
- sweet potato
- jar or glass
- bottled water (non-chlorinated)
- Wash sweet potato thoroughly.
- Insert toothpicks into the sides of the sweet potato about 1/3 of the way down.
- Place the sweet potato into the jar.
- Fill the jar with water.
- In about 10-15 days, the sweet potato will begin to bud.
- For the next 3 to 6 months, vines will grow from the sweet potato.
- You can train the vines to climb up or around whatever you choose.
Keeping It Green:
- Always keep your jar filled with non-chlorinated water.
- Keep the sweet potato plant in full to moderate sunlight.
- Keep the sweet potato plant at room temperature at or above 65° F.