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Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea Batatus)

A big vegetable tuber coming in many varieties (its flesh varying from white to dark orange), and a member of the morning glory family being native of southern and Central America - all have a slightly nutty flavour. Although very popular as a vegetable in the United States (particularly on Thanksgiving Day), it was strangely more likely than not to have been introduced via Europe - rather than directly from Central America.

They were widely grown by pre-Inca civilizations and somehow they spread westwards, as they were an established crop in Polynesia before 1250, and had reached China by the end of the 16th century.

Sweet potatoes were known in Britain long before what we now call potatoes, as they were one of the first foods brought back by Columbus in 1493 (whereas the first recordings of potatoes by Europeans date from 1537, and it was several decades later until they became part of the European diet).

The British then called them "Spanish potatoes" as they grew there with vigour, cultivation in Northern Europe has been unsuccessful as they need sub-tropical heat to flourish. Eighty-five per cent of the world's crop is now grown in China.

They are sometimes mistaken for Yams, but tend to have smoother skin - they are also much more nutritious, containing about three times as much vitamin C, and a good source of vitamin A. When cooking they can be treated in the same manner as potatoes.

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sweet potatoes
sweet potatoes