November is Sweet Potato Month

Sweet potatoes can be a healthy addition to any meal.

Graphic by the USDA

Graphic by the USDA

In order to keep pace with increasing demand, sweet potato production has been on the rise in recent years. According to the USDA ERS, the 2015 harvest of 3.1 billion pounds represents the largest harvest in decades. In fact, sweet potato production is at its highest levels since WWII.  Increasing demand is not just occurring in the U.S. Canadian and UK exports from the U.S. are up as well. Top producing U.S. states include North Carolina, California, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Production of sweet potatoes occurs on every continent except Antarctica, mostly between 48 degrees north and 40 degrees south latitude. They grow well in slightly acidic, well-drained soils and require full sun. The top 5 producers of sweet potato are China, Nigeria, Uganda, Indonesia and Tanzania. More than 130 million tons of sweet potatoes are grown each year. China alone produces around 80 percent of the tonnage annually. Sweet potatoes are an important food crop for both humans and livestock. Top importers are Canada, UK, Netherlands, Japan and France.

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are herbaceous perennial vines in the Convolvulaceae family often known as the “morning glory family”. They belong to a different family than yams and potatoes and are not tubers but enlarged roots. The common U.S. potato belongs to the Solanaceae family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplant and tobacco.

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Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams (Dioscorea alata), especially this time of year. A few distinctions: yams are not grown in the United States so they are rarely found in stores. Yams likely originated in West Africa and sweet potatoes in Central America. While sweet potatoes have smooth, delicate skin, yams tend to have rough, thick skin. For more information on determining the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, please visit “Sweet Potato or Yam?”.

One serving of sweet potatoes offer 200 percent of the USDA recommended allowance of Vitamin A, nearly 50 percent of the recommended allowance for Vitamin C, and over 400 percent of the recommended daily allowance of beta-carotene. They are also an excellent source of fiber.  According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the sweet potato ranks number one in terms nutrition, when compared to other vegetables. There are several different varieties of sweet potatoes commonly grown-from the covington to the Carolina ruby and more, each with different colors and flavor profiles that lend themselves to different dishes.

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