The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is native to the tropical parts of North America and is also known in some parts of the world as a yam or a kumara. It is not the same as the yam (Dioscorea) found in Africa and Asia, and is totally different from a type of wood sorrel known in New Zealand and many parts of Polynesia as a “yam”.
To avoid confusion, the Department of Agriculture in the United States requires sweet potatoes to be labelled “sweet potatoes” and not “yams”.
It was the 1492 expedition of Christopher Columbus that first discovered the sweet potato for European cuisine. The first reference to it in English was in the Oxford English Dictionary of 1775.
Ranked among the highest foods for nutritional value, it is rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre, and beta-carotene while also having moderate amounts of vitamins and manganese.
Sweet potatoes enjoy a wide culinary use in various world cuisines. They are often baked, boiled or roasted, whole, or cut into chunks or sliced. They can be mashed and used to replace common potatoes, either as a side dish or as a topping. They are used to make soups and in Kenya they are used to make a nutritious drink. They are fried both as chipped potatoes or battered potatoes. Many cuisines also make good use of the leaves. Sweet potato flour is also used to make bread or chapattis.
Numerous recipes exist where they are combined with other ingredients such as maple syrup, molasses, or marshmallows, or dressed with ingredients such as yoghurt or coconut.