Skip to main content

Sweet Potato

Louisiana State Vegetable

Sweet potatoes in the afternoon light; photo by A. Charlotte Riley on Flickr (noncommercial use permitted with attribution / no derivative works).

Sweet Potato

Louisiana designated the sweet potato as the official state vegetable in 2003. Sweet potatoes were born in Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies. Their botanical name (Ipomoca batata) was derived from the American Indians of Louisiana who were growing them in native gardens as early as 1540 (the Indians referred to sweet potatoes as batatas).

Sweet potatoes come in many varieties and are a highly nutritious, versatile food that tastes great. There are about 50 genera and more than 1000 species of this family, but only Ipomoea batatas is a crop plant (grown as an important root vegetable). The genus Ipomoea also includes several garden flowers called morning glories (the blossom of the sweet potato looks very much like a morning glory).

The large, starchy, sweet-tasting tuberous roots of the sweet potato can be prepared in a variety of ways including baked, french-fried, and candied. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens.

The sweet potato is only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum). Sweet potatos are often called yams in parts of North America, although they are only very distantly related to the other plant that is widely known as yams (in the Dioscoreaceae family, which is native to Africa and Asia).