For the reason that begin of 2022, I’ve consumed greater than my physique weight in candy potatoes. The common American eats nearer to the equal of 1 (1) fry a day, however for the previous decade, I’ve had at the very least half a pound of the roots at nearly each dinner. I journey with candy potatoes extra reliably than I journey with my partner. All I want so as to chow down is a microwave and one thing to cushion my fingers towards the warmth.
Tomorrow, Individuals will lastly put candy potatoes within the highlight—and nonetheless not recognize all that they’re price. Households throughout the nation will smother the roots with sugar and butter beneath a crunchy marshmallow crust. This basic casserole often is the solely serving of candy potatoes some individuals have all 12 months—which is a travesty by way of each amount and (sorry) preparation model. Candy potatoes deserve a lot greater than what Thanksgiving serves them. And possibly they’d get it, in the event that they weren’t so misunderstood.
For starters, candy potatoes are usually not potatoes or yams. Every belongs to a definite household of vegetation. And though potatoes and yams are technically tubers, a riff on a plant stem, candy potatoes are a modified root. The frequent title doesn’t precisely assist, which is why many consultants need to change it from candy potato to … sweetpotato. Even in grocery shops, confusion abounds. A small a part of Lauren Eserman-Campbell, a geneticist and sweet-potato professional on the Atlanta Botanical Backyard, dies each time she spots a can of Bruce’s Yams.
Largely, the candy potatoes in American markets resemble Bruce’s (Not) Yams: orange-fleshed, brown-skinned, sugary, moist. However the plant’s true vary is way more numerous. The skin is available in earthy umbers, ruddy reds and purples, and sandy beiges; the inside may be cream, buttercup yellow, cantaloupe, lilac, even a shade of violet that verges on black. Some are somewhat watery; others are nearly as dry and starchy as bread. Not all of them are even perceptibly candy. And because of the plant’s zany genetics—six copies of every of 15 chromosomes—almost each combo of colour, texture, style, form, and sugar and water content material can spring out of a cross between, say, a dryish, veiny purple and a moist, smooth-skinned orange. Craig Yencho, a sweet-potato breeder and geneticist at North Carolina State College, instructed me that, given sufficient time, “I may discover a candy potato that may be satisfying to only about any shopper.”
The frequent false impression that potatoes are fattening and devoid of diet (slander!) may make some individuals assume the identical or worse of candy potatoes. However that couldn’t be farther from the reality. Pit their dietary profile towards different staple crops, similar to rice, wheat, and corn—all of which command a bigger share of the world market—and, in lots of respects, “candy potato is on high,” says Samuel Acheampong, a geneticist on the College of Cape Coast, in Ghana. The orange-fleshed varieties, particularly, come chock-full of iron, zinc, and beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A; the purples are wealthy in cancer-fighting anthocyanins. Even sweet-potato leaves are a powerhouse, filled with folate and a stunning quantity of protein. Additionally, they’re scrumptious stir-fried.
Candy potatoes are inclined to get America’s consideration solely in November, however they’re hardy, versatile, and ubiquitous sufficient to be an anytime, anyplace type of meals. They’ve taken root on each continent, save for Antarctica; they’ve been rocketed into house. Acre for acre, candy potatoes additionally yield edible crop much more effectively than many different vegetation do, “and that’s actually essential in households the place they don’t have sufficient high quality meals,” says Robert Mwanga, a sweet-potato geneticist based mostly in Uganda, the place some locals eat the roots at almost each meal. In Kenya, candy potatoes have sustained communities when different crops have failed. Amongst some populations, the roots have earned an apt moniker: cilera abana, protector of the youngsters.
However even amongst scientists, candy potatoes get, if not a dangerous rap, at the very least an underwhelming one. “It’s a tiny neighborhood, and there’s not a number of funding,” Eserman-Campbell instructed me. “I went to a sweet-potato breeders’ assembly one time, and I simply thought there could be extra individuals there.” It doesn’t assist that the vegetation generally is a little bit of a genetic ache, Mwanga instructed me. Their many copied chromosomes make breeding difficult, and new sweet-potato varieties may be propagated solely by clonal cuttings. Amongst customers, the candy potato has additionally struggled to shed its fame as a poor individual’s meals, turned to in occasions of famine or conflict and culturally linked to rural, low-income farmers.
Folks within the Western world are catching on—particularly now that nutritionists so typically tout candy potatoes as a superfood, says Ana Rita Simões, a taxonomist at Kew Gardens, in London. Prior to now decade, demand for Yencho’s candy potatoes has tripled, possibly quintupled; “I’ve by no means seen a crop take off like that,” he mentioned.
Culinarily, although, Individuals are nonetheless batting within the candy potato’s minor leagues. The large hitter stays the Thanksgiving casserole—a dish Acheampong likes however stays a bit mystified by. “You guys add a number of sugar,” he instructed me, which is amusing, contemplating that the orange-fleshed varieties are already loads candy. Plus, the casserole is (gasp) beneath the thumb of Large Confection: Its invention was commissioned as a part of a ploy to promote extra marshmallows. It’s sugar all the best way down.
I’m not right here to yuck anybody’s yam; I rejoice any dish that options candy potatoes. Extra preferable, although, could be casting these great roots in a starring function. In different elements of the world, sweet-potato recipes run the gamut from sugary to savory, from appetizer to primary to dessert. They’re pureed, stir-fried, noodle-fied; they’re blended into soups, drinks, and pastries. They’ve even discovered their approach into booze. Think about how they might gown our Thanksgiving tables: candy potatoes roasted; candy potatoes grilled; candy potatofurkey—I imply, why the heck not.
Or maybe there’s a extra modest proposal to be made: Benefit from the roots all on their very own. Yencho, like me, is a purist; he likes his candy potatoes plain, baked till mushy, no condiments essential. They simply don’t want the rest.