SWEET POTATO DEFINED
Sweet potato is one of our family’s favorite roots and with good reason. A sweet potato is essentially the fleshy tubers of some varieties of the ipomoea genus that we like to employ in the kitchen for their natural sweetness and their aid in good health. Most people may not recognize that sweet potato belongs to the most popular genus of the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). This makes it a very useful and ornamental vine that’s guaranteed to reward you with delicious and healthy edible roots at the end of each planting season.
JAPANESE SWEET POTATO PROPERTIES
I met the Japanese sweet potato in a farmer’s market upstate New York several years ago and brought some home. After cooking it for the first time, I decided I needed to have this plant in my life. The texture and flavor were superior to the more common orange varieties that were readily available in the markets. In fact, while it wasn’t as firm in texture it was reminiscent of the delicious Jamaican sweet potato variety I’d been raised on. We’ve been growing Japanese sweet potatoes ever since.
You’ll find that its’ properties are lauded and desired among ipomoea plants. Isn’t it amazing how one root could come in so many variations? How many have you experienced: purple, red, orange, pink, gold, and white-flesh tubers? The Japanese sweet potato is an interesting variety. Thick, light-green vines produce heart-shaped, dark-green leaves with trumpet-like blooms of pink and violet popping up within the folds. The vines produce tubers that are generally much sweeter and firmer than some of the more popular and widely cultivated types on the global market. The thin, maroon skin gives way to cream colored flesh that takes on a soft yellow hue when cooked.
Speaking of cooking, perhaps one of the best properties of this Japanese sweet potato is that like the Jamaican variety, it has the ability to hold its’ form when cooked. It has a nice, firm, even texture when boiled or baked and makes amazing fries that our children just love. It’s a good substitute for the traditional Jamaican sweet potato pudding for West Indians who’ve migrated. It makes excellent cookies, cakes, ice-cream, milkshake, punch, porridge, bread, and so much more!
Let’s not forget that the plant also has its’ host of uses. The Japanese sweet potato makes an elegant ornamental and it’s perfect for small space or short seasons. You can plant it in a hanging basket on your porch. You can even train your plants over a lattice, arch, gazebo, or swing in your garden or landscape. If you’re looking for elegant groundcover, you can plant it over that rocky bed, along your driveway or any awkward space in your home, school or office.
PLANTING SWEET POTATO
Be mindful that the sweet potato is a creeper vine so if it is potted, I’d suggest putting it in a large hanging basket. They require very little attention once the right conditions are provided. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that they love warmth. Sweet potatoes thrive in warmer regions. Just provide rich, breathable soil and irrigation. Be sure there’s allowance for water runoff. The roots do not like to be waterlogged as this may cause root rot.
Plant your sweet potato slips at least a foot apart and watch them dance into maturity. Here’s the best part! You can harvest your sweet potato in as little as three months! This makes it perfect for those of us who live in temperate regions with only a few months of warmer weather. You can add this sweet potato plant to your garden this season and enjoy all the benefits. Our honey bees find the flowers very attractive so if you’ve an apiary, its’ presence will only serve to aid your production. If your plants are producing a profusion of flowers it’s usually a good indicator that they’re mature. I like to harvest by hand and not with tools as that can damage the sweet potato tubers. You can protect your hands with gloves as you unearth your treasures.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF SWEET POTATO
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A. They are also a very good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6, potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and phosphorus. What does this mean for you really? You can boost your energy levels, skin health, and brain power just by eating sweet potatoes. The ipomoea tuber can also help in treating obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, colon and prostate cancer, infertility, constipation, inflammation and eye conditions.
SWEET POTATO & DIABETES
If you’re a diabetic, this bit is for you. Sweet potatoes have a medium glycemic index. As a result, I would not encourage diabetics to consume large amounts in a single meal. According to Medical New Today, recent research suggests sweet potatoes may reduce episodes of low blood sugar and insulin resistance in people with diabetes. The fiber in sweet potatoes makes a big difference too. Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One medium sweet potato provides about 6 grams of fiber (skin on).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 grams of fiber per day for women and 30-38 grams per day for men, which most people do not reach. Consult your nutritionist or healthcare provider about incorporating sweet potatoes into your diet while protecting your health. Boiling seems to be associated with lower glycemic index values than baking, frying or roasting.