Viva la revolution!
Admit it, we Brits have a largely potato-based diet. But don't you ever get bored? But no longer! Perhaps it's time we overthrow the 'normal' potato and in its place appoint the unloved, yet magnificent sweet potato as the true successor…
Actually I dream of a world where both potatoes live together in perfect harmony. Maybe instead of overthrowing things, we can instead raise awareness for our neglected sweet potatoes?
Because although this root vegetable is beloved amongst many of the cultures that call Britain home, in the 'culinary mainstream' it rarely gets the attention it deserves. And why not?
As a white Brit who counts it amongst his very favourite edible things, I want to challenge this sad state of affairs. So here are sweet potatoes' vital statistics.
Stuff you may not know about the sweet potato
It's not related to the potato - instead it's part of the 'Convolvulaceae', known more commonly as the bindweed or morning glory family. It actually has more in common with water spinach or morning glory flowers than regular spuds.This also means that unlike normal potatoes, they count as one of your five-a-day.
According to the International Potato Centre there's about 6500 different varieties world wide, though not all of them are bred for human consumption.
In UK catering, sweet potatoes are often divided into three categories; orange fleshed, red fleshed and white fleshed.
There's a lot of variety in flavour between the different varieties. It ranges from mild, starchier tasting kinds to much sweeter kinds.
The sweet potato is a pretty versatile vegetable and is used the wide world over. Here's some examples of how our friends abroad enjoy it:
The Japanese make a type of spirit called 'shōchū' from sweet potato. Okinawan Japanese have also cultivated purple varieties!
The early Maori colonists of Polynesia brought sweet potatoes with them as one of their staple food sources.
In Morocco they make a type of pastry called a 'briouat', sweeter varieties are often filled with sweet potato pieces.
Sweet potato pie is a favourite in Southern U.S. cuisine (what some call 'Soul Food')
In Korea, sweet potato starch is used to produce 'dangmyeon' (cellophane noodles)
Cooking with sweet potatoes
If you want to do something properly, it's often best to find the expert. So we did.
Anthony Cumberbatch was named 'Best Caribbean Chef in the UK' by the Caribbean Food Emporium in 2006 - a title he still holds. We asked him to tell us a little what he likes about them, and their importance in Bajan cuisine...
"In Barbados, sweet potatoes are a key ingredient, and are used in the way that potatoes are used here in England. They go with so much and can be used to make anything from cakes to mash!
What I love about sweet potato is how well it works with so many different herbs as well as its versatility - it can be steamed, roasted, baked - the possibilities are almost endless…
The variety of colours is something that excites me as a chef, from oranges and red to grey and even purple! They really bring a new dimension to a dish.
My personal favourite recipe is brandy and sweet potato pie, this can also be made with rum but the brandy gives it a great twist! I'd say that curried sweet potato is the quickest and tastiest dish to cook up.
And how does the sweet potato compare to the 'conventional' spud?
They're more diverse as they can be used in cakes and puddings too. But sweet potato tends to be more moist and you should be careful when preparing it as it can be overcooked easily."
Growing your own...
Despite the fact that they're fond of warmer climates, we're told that sweet potatoes are easier to grow in the UK than you might think.
David Domoney is the presenter of ITV1's 'Love Your Garden' and reckons we should grow our own.
We asked him to share some tips on how…
"Supermarket ranges are quite limited. Whilst it is possible to grow your own 'slips' from supermarket sweet potatoes, most of these varieties are not sufficiently hardy to grow well in the UK. Crops are likely to be disappointing. But there's so many different (edible) growing varieties to choose from!
Sweet potato plants are not hardy so you will need to grow them on in warm, frost-free conditions for three weeks or more until they are established. Warm, humid conditions will quickly encourage the slips to produce roots. Once well grown, and all risk of frost has passed, gradually acclimatise sweet potato plants to outdoor conditions prior to transplanting them"
And the best kind to grow?
"I'd advise using the 'Georgia Jet' variety (it's particularly reliable), the 'Beauregard Improved' (which has a lovely salmon-orange flesh), or the richly flavoured 'O'Henry' which produces it's tubers (the edible bit) in a cluster, making for easier harvesting."
So, do you like sweet potatoes?
Hopefully we've changed a few minds. But why not tell us what you love or loathe about them?