Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is plant from family Convolvulaceae, famous as one of the oldest vegetable. It is a herbaceous perennial vine, with leaves and flowers, which root is a vegetable. It was used even in prehistoric times, with origins in Central and South America. Sweet potatoes can grow on different soils, but best on the temperature of 24 °C and it can't tolerate frost.
Orange sweet potato is sometimes called "yam" in English-speaking parts of the world, although it's different from a yam (yam is a tropical crop from family Dioscoreaceae, with origins in Africa and Asia). Also, the sweet potato is wrongly related to the potato; they only share the name because of the same origins.
Sweet Potato was brought to Europe in the 15th century by Christopher Columbus after his first trip to the New World. In the 16th century, sweet potato came to the Philippines by Spanish and even to Africa, India and southern Asia thanks to Portuguese. Since that times, it was cultivated and accepted worldwide.
There are about 400 varieties of sweet potato, so the skin and flesh can be in different colors: from white, cream, yellow, orange, to pink and deep purple, although white-cream and yellow-orange fleshed are most seen. The root of this vegetable is usually shaped like a potato with rounded ends, but it also can be longer with tapered ends.
In Africa there is food Amukeke and inginyo, sun-dried slices of root and the crushed root of sweet potato; both are mostly used in Uganda. In Egypt, there is "batata", sweet potato which is sold as a street food. Orange-flesh sweet potato is popular in Africa because there's a vitamin deficiency. Sweet potato soup is very popular even in Asia. There are also in use young leaves of sweet potato, especially as baby food. In America, sweet potato pie is traditional food often served on Thanksgiving, like sweet potato fries (similar to French fried potatoes).
Sweet potato was treated as healing plant in South American folk medicine for over 5,000 years.
It has a good nutritional profile containing a higher density of nutrients, and his rank is much lower on the glycemic index than a regular potato. Sweet potato contains potassium, vitamins: A, C, B5, B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and, thanks to orange color, it is high in carotenoids.
It can be orange or yellow-fleshed or purple on the inside. The orange and yellow are rich in vitamin A, and the purple in antioxidants. Scientists say that the purple-fleshed sweet potato has peonidins and cyanidins with important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so when it passing through our digestive tract, it may be able to lower the potential health risk caused by heavy metals and oxygen radicals. It's interesting that preservation of sweet potato anthocyanins (which are, before mentioned, peonidins and cyanidins ) is better with steaming, and also that boiling comparing to roasting have shown better blood sugar effects. Storage proteins in sweet potato, sporamins, also have antioxidant properties so they can heal our gastrointestinal tract.
No other food contains more vitamin A than sweet potatoes, so according to studies, besides anti-aging benefits, it should be used to prevent cancer, to treat diabetes, and inflammatory-based conditions like heart disease. Vitamin B is excellent for blood vessels and arteries, too. Also, vitamin A, along with vitamins C and E (all are present in sweet potato), can prevent degenerative damage in eyes. Several studies from Africa showed that sweet potatoes have between 100-1,600 micrograms (RAE) of vitamin A in every 3.5 ounces, which is enough to meet 35% of all vitamin A needs. Another words, in one medium spud there's over 400% of daily needs.
According to the journal Carcinogenesis from 2013, the study showed that polyphenol-rich sweet potato greens affected prostate cancer in that way that daily oral administration of 400 mg/kg body weight stopped progression and growth of prostate cancer cells in mice up to 75%.
Because of the high content of beta-carotene, sweet potato is good for skin, too. It helps in converting vitamin A in the body, so new skin cells can be made. The intensity of the color of the sweet potato's yellow or orange flesh is directly correlated to its beta-carotene content, so because of this, it's often called "Provitamin A" (beta-carotene is being converted to vitamin A in our body). Vitamin A from sweet potato is essential during pregnancy for hormone synthesis, and it seems that it affects fertility, too. It's also good to know that diets rich in beta-carotene may be protective against prostate or colon cancer, according to the study of the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition.
Choline from sweet potato can reduce chronic inflammation. It can also help with sleep and brain activities like learning and memory because it helps in transmission of nerve impulses.
Sweet potato is popular in weight loss diets because it's low on the glycemic index and in calories, besides that, it's high in fiber and potassium. These vegetables can potentially improve blood sugar regulation, despite medium glycemic index: its can significantly increase blood levels of adiponectin, a protein hormone which is an important modifier of insulin metabolism. This could be helpful to persons with type 2 diabetes.
Although sweet potato is very healthy, it can be harmful to people with kidney stone formation, because of oxalic acid, which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract.
It's interesting to know that George Washington Carver found out 118 products based on sweet potatoes, like starch for sizing cotton fabrics and glue for postage stamps.
China produces about 80 million tons of sweet potatoes a year, while Africa about 14 million tons. In Central and South America are produced approximately 2 million tons every year. Only in 2004 world had produced 127 million tons.
As North Carolina is the leading producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, sweet potato is North Carolina's official state vegetable.