European explorers found sweet potatoes in South America, where they were already being cultivated by Mesoamerican civilizations along with maize and amaranth. These vibrant root vegetables have since become a staple in our own modern diets as an alternative to the white, or Irish, potato, which it is not closely related to, contrary to popular belief.
A member of the morning glory family, sweet potatoes thrive in warmer, temperate climates and come in an array of colors. Most common in supermarkets is the orange fleshed larger variety, but local sweet potato has a gorgeous purple hue. All share creamy textures with variations.
In the United States, sweet potatoes often are called by the name of their cousin the yam, even though the two are very different. Due to this misappropriation of names and the confusion it may cause, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that if the vegetable is labeled as a yam, it must also include the term sweet potato.
Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber and contain 23g of vitamin C per 100g raw. They are also a good source of vitamin B6. They supply up to 400 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin A due to their 3930μg beta-carotene content per 100g of raw sweet potato. Carotenes are fat soluble, so in order to increase the absorption of beta-carotene, a small amount of fat should be consumed alongside the sweet potato.
Even the leaves of the sweet potato are high in protein, fiber and minerals.
White vs. sweet
Both the sweet potato and white potato are beneficial and deliver different nutritional punches. The white potato contains more potassium, folate and iron, while the sweet potato has a high beta-carotene content, higher vitamin C levels, fewer calories and more fiber. Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index and glycemic load than white potatoes, meaning they have slightly less of an effect on blood glucose levels.
How to eat
Sweet potatoes are traditionally baked, roasted or mashed and can be cooked in their skin or peeled. A variety called boniato is popular in the Caribbean. It is slightly less sweet than other varieties of sweet potato but can be prepared in exactly the same way. Executive Chef Gilbert Cavallaro of Cracked Conch restaurant has supplied this recipe for marinated roast pork accompanied by boniato mousseline and wilted arugula. Mousseline, a strained puree, is an up-market addition to any dish.
Marinated roast pork, boniato mousseline, wilted arugula
To serve 4, with some pork leftover.
Ask your butcher to butterfly the loin length-ways
- 1 pork loin
- 1 bunch mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, rosemary)
- 3 cloves garlic (1 sliced)
- 2 lemongrass stems
- Olive oil
- 1 lb boniato
- 1 cup of cream (heated lightly)
- 2 oz butter
- 1 bunch arugula
Bake the potatoes whole until tender (about 1 hour, depending on size).
In a blender, mix 2 cloves of garlic, the herbs, enough olive oil to make a paste, salt and pepper. Put this herb mix on the pork, season and roll the meat on itself, securing with butcher’s twine.
Sear the meat and put in the oven at 350°F (20 minutes per pound).
Once the boniatos are cooked and while they are hot, cut in half and scoop out the flesh. Rice the flesh through a strainer or ricer, add the whole butter and hot cream. Adjust so that the mash is not too thick. Season.
Let the meat rest. Keep the mash hot. Quickly sauté the sliced garlic in olive oil for 30 seconds then add arugula. Turn off the heat and serve straight away, topped with caramelized oranges if desired.