All-around sweet potato has deep Southern roots

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Jan 19, 2011 - 04:20 PM

Photo: With just two sweet potatoes, a dessert that’s a treat to all can be made. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day.

With just two sweet potatoes, a dessert that’s a treat to all can be made. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day.

Those who recall the days of wood cooking stoves still being around and used can also remember that on the back of those stoves, especially in the winter months, there would be a couple of cooked sweet potatoes waiting. They were the snack food for our great-grandparents and grandparents.

They were at times referred to as yams, but a sweet potato is not a yam although many people use the two names interchangeably, both in conversation and cooking. The yam is not even distantly related to the sweet potato. It’s a tuber that grows on a vine above ground, while a sweet potato is a tuber which is the root of a vine.

To prevent confusion, the United States Department of Agriculture requires that potatoes labeled as "yams" also be labeled as "sweet potatoes."

Sweet potatoes are native to the tropical parts of South America and were used and cultivated there at least 5,000 years ago.