Sweet Potato

Sweet PotatoSweet Potato — The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), commonly called a yam in parts of the United States is a crop plant whose large, starchy, sweet tasting tuberous roots are an important root vegetable. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. The sweet potato is only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum). It is even more distantly related to the true yam (Dioscorea species), which is native to Africa and Asia. Thus, a sweet potato and a yam are in fact different foods.

The genus Ipomoea that contains the sweet potato also includes several garden flowers called morning glories, though that term is not usually extended to Ipomoea batatas. Some cultivars of Ipomoea batatas are grown as ornamental plants.

This plant is a herbaceous perennial vine, bearing alternate heart-shaped or palmately lobed leaves and medium-sized sympetalous flowers. The edible tuberous root is long and tapered, with a smooth skin whose color ranges between red, purple, brown and white. Its flesh ranges from white through yellow, orange, and purple.

The plant does not enjoy frost. It grows best at an average temperature of 24 °C (75 °F). Depending on the cultivar and conditions, tuberous roots mature in two to nine months. With care, early-maturing cultivars can be grown as an annual summer crop in temperate areas, such as the northern USA. Sweet potatoes rarely flower when the daylight is longer than 11 hours, as is normal outside of the tropics. They are mostly propagated by stem or root cuttings or by adventitious roots called “slips” that grow out from the tuberous roots during storage. True seeds are used for breeding only.

Under optimal conditions of 85 to 90 % relative humidity at 13 to 16 °C (55 to 61 °F), sweet potatoes can keep for six months. Colder temperatures injure the roots.

The roots are most frequently boiled, fried, or baked. They can also be processed to make starch and a partial flour substitute. Industrial uses include the production of starch and industrial alcohol.

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