Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable whose dark green leaves are also nutritious and tasty. The plant’s leaves are creepers and often can be coaxed to grow along a railing. They thrive indoors and make a good ground cover in African permaculture gardens, as their leaves grow quickly. Even if you don’t grow them at home, sweet potatoes can be found in any African market and we encourage you to include them in your regular meals. They are an excellent and nutritious African staple.
Nutrition in Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be found in many varieties. They originally come from South America, where there are hundreds of heirloom potato varieties enjoyed there by local communities. The basic distinction in African sweet potatoes is between their fleshly interiors: are they pale white, or varying shades of yellow and orange?
White sweet potatoes are still sweet, but they have a different texture from their colored and more nutritious cousins. They cook differently, and from our experience seem to be wetter and slightly stickier when raw.
Yellow and orange sweet potatoes are harder to find in Africa. Their bright colors signifies nutrition and the brighter the interior, the more vitamin A and beta-carotene there is inside.
No mater what type of sweet potato you find, it’s going to be good for you. Sweet potatoes, along with other sweet root vegetables like yams and carrots, are a good source of complex carbohydrates that provide long-lasting energy. The sweet sugars get digested along with lots of fiber, which slows things down and lets us absorb the energy from our food in a more balanced and prolonged way.
Sweet potatoes also are, of course, gluten-free and provide a good alternative to white bread, white rice or whatever other sugary bleached carbohydrate is around.
If you’re used to eating sweet potatoes in other countries and are trying them in Africa for the first time, we encourage you to look beyond their rather knobby, knotted appearance and give them a try. Sweet potatoes make great french fries!