Sweet potatoes have been staples in many diets from antiquity to modernity. Enjoyed at everything from communal harvest feasts of the Andean Quechua to rowdy post-game meals (burger with a side of sweet-potato fries, anyone?), they are loaded with beta-carotene, antioxidants and a sweet, starchy taste.
New research says that, although sweet potatoes originated in South America, they could’ve also been grown in Polynesia before Christopher Columbus set foot in either part of the world thanks to tenacious birds (seeds being digested and spread through stools or getting lodged in their wings) or humans (the hypothesis is that Polynesian folks had awesome canoes that could possibly have been paddled to South American shores).
According to Inner Glow Nutrition’s Kristin Fraser, there’s a reason why people have depended on the saccharine tuber for sustenance for hundreds of years.
“Sweet potatoes have always been considered a strong nutritional powerhouse. High in fibre [and] potassium, and with over 100 per cent of your daily vitamin A requirements. They have been known to have anti-inflammatory properties, improve immunity and support digestion and regularity due to their high fibre content,” she explains in an email.
“Excellent for fitness buffs, and those looking for longevity, sweet potatoes should be a staple in your diet,” explains Fraser. A-ha! This explains why the sea-faring islanders could have adopted sweet potato as their food of choice when paddling for days over rough seas.
Enjoyed in both hemispheres
Today, sweet potatoes are staples of many different cultural cuisines, from Japan to Ghana to Peru to Canada. They are best grown in hot, moist climates – hence the American south’s propensity for all things sweet potato.
When asked if there are any locally grown Ipomoea batatas (the scientific name for the sweet potato), Graham Sparrow of Sparrow’s Nest Organics put it simply: “Sweet potatoes don’t grow here. It’s just not warm enough, long enough.” He did mention, though, that there are some sweet-potato farms in southern Ontario.
Chef Tomoya Mutaguchi of Izakaya Tomo grew up eating sweet potatoes. “I, maybe my generation of people, used to eat sweet potato as a snack. When I eat sweet potato, I kind of feel nostalgic.”
Sweet Potato and Ice Cream Recipe
courtesy Tomoya Mutaguchi of Izakaya Tomo
1 sweet potato
Vanilla ice cream
1. Cut a sweet potato into one-inch bite-sized pieces and deep fry.
2. In a small frying pan over medium heat, melt 100 grams of sugar until it becomes golden in colour and the thickness of honey.
3. Turn off the heat. Add deep-fried sweet potato into the caramel and mix.
4. Scoop vanilla ice cream into the middle of a dish and place caramelized sweet potato around the ice cream.
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