Batata (Hebrew), camote (Central America and Phillipines), cumar (Quechua, Peru), patate douce (Cajun), 甘薯 (gān shǔ, Mandarin), शकरकंद (shakarkand, Hindi), શક્કરિયા Śakkariyā, Gujarati), mitatis (Ethiopia)
Sweet potatoes were domesticated more than 5,000 years ago in Central America and likely spread throughout the Caribbean and South America 2,500 years ago. There is some genetic evidence that sweet potatoes spread to Polynesia from the Andes around 1,000 years ago. Europeans encountered sweet potatoes during the earliest Spanish voyages to the Americas, and the root was introduced to Spanish colonies in tropical areas of Asia, such as the Philippines, and it quickly spread to China through trade. The Portuguese introduced the root to Japan where it became an important staple crop during times of famine. The sweet potato is among several crops from Latin America that have gained particular importance in Africa as a staple crop, and cultivation has become so widespread it is often mistaken as indigenous to Africa. Today, the sweet potato is common in cuisines throughout most tropical regions including the southern United States.
Sweet potatoes are consumed in a variety of ways throughout the world. They can be boiled, baked, fried, sauteed, mashed, and even fermented. In Mexico, they are used in a variety of sweet and savory ways, including camotes enmielados (candied sweet potatoes) and the famous Camotes de Puebla (flavored sweet potato treats). Kamote Cue, fried sweet potatoes coated in brown sugar, is a common afternoon snack in the Philippines. They add sweetness to Indian and Thai curries. In the United States, sweet potatoes have a long culinary history in Southern cuisine, particularly sweet potato pie and candied with marshmallows. Sweet potatoes are sometimes referred to as ‘yams’ in the South, yet they are not related to true yams which are indigenous to Africa. Today, sweet potatoes are becoming more mainstream in the United States as a more nutritious alternative to potato-based ‘French fries,’ and the young shoots and leaves are eaten as greens.
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and carbohydrates.
Plant March through June via slips (transplants); harvest approximately 120-140 days later. Plants are frost sensitive, and are considered a warm-weather vegetable. Sweet potatoes should be grown in the home garden so they have enough space for vining, though it is possible to grow a more bush-like variety in a container (such as “Vardaman” or “Porto Rico”). “Centennial” and “Beauregard” are two, vining varieties that do well in Florida. Sweet potatoes prefer a more basic soil pH (5.6 – 6.5) and it should be properly fertilized before planting; additional fertilizer applied to the sides of rows may be necessary. Sweet potatoes are cured before eating, and the young leaves may also be eaten like greens
To plan a Florida heritage garden, download the ‘Planning a Florida Heritage Garden (PDF).’