Sweetpotato: One Word or Two?

Using the single-word term helps differentiate the sweetpotato from the white or Irish potato, which is a tuber, not a root, and which possess a different nutrient profile. One of the most healthful foods on the planet, sweetpotato is rich in beta-carotene, Vitamin A and other nutrients. It is a cheap, tasty source of food for people around the globe, as many who follow CIP’s work well know.

Differentiation also matters when it comes to separating sweetpotato from yams, another vegetable with which it is commonly confused. Aren’t sweetpotatoes synonymous with “yams”? Aren’t all roots and tubers with orange- or red-colored colored flesh genetically related? Indeed they are not.

Like white potatoes, true yams – which are native to Africa – are tubers. But their similar shapes and hues to sweetpotato tend to generate confusion among consumers who interchange these terms. Western supermarkets tend to sell “yams” at the winter holidays for traditional casserole preparation – but even those vegetables are actually sweetpotato. These stores tend to refer to the orange-fleshed, burgundy-skinned vegetables as yams, while their golden-skinned counterparts with a lighter-colored flesh are billed as “sweet potato” – or, increasingly, “sweetpotato.” See, even the stores are starting to catch on!

CIP since its inception has opted to use the one-word term for these nutrient-packed crops native to Peru and other parts of Central America. Grown in more countries around the world than any other root crop, sweetpotato – ipomoea batatas, part of the morning glory family – was first domesticated more than 5,000 years ago in Latin America.