Discovering American Potatoes

Sweet potatoes by julahooper
Sweet potatoes, a photo by julahooper on Flickr.

The sweet potato became a part of my diet after a discussion with my dance professor about increasing my potassium intake to decrease muscle spasms. Low potassium levels put you at risk for muscle spasms (charley horses…) as well as other less fun conditions. As the kidney is the primary organ associated with maintaining potassium balance, many diabetics are prone to potassium deficiencies. I am not exempt. How to maintain adequate potassium levels? Eat white beans, bananas, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes. My teacher suggested sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are incredibly good for diabetics because they are densely nutritious and surprisingly low calorie. The term sweet in this case does not put ones blood sugar at risk. This is because the sweet potato is about twice as high in fiber as a regular potato. Not only do sweet potatoes contain high amounts of fiber and potassium, but they also contain vitamin A, calcium, iron, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. All in all, they give quite the nutritious kick.

To clear up any confusion, sweet potatoes are a completely different vegetable than regular potatoes. There are over a hundred different species of potatoes that belong to the Solanaceae family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos. Sweet potatoes, however, belong to the Convolvulaceae plant family, the same family that includes the morning glory flower. They belong to the genus Ipomea. What we get from this is that the term sweet potato is not completely accurate.

After an exhausting search of the supermarkets in Bergamo Thanksgiving day, I was finally able to find two types of sweet potatoes at a small vietnamese market, discovering that in Italian they are called either African potatoes or American potatoes. This makes a little bit of sense as this species originates in Central and South America. Although they are similar nutritionally, I personally prefer the African sweet potatoes (our typical orange sweet potatoes) to the easier to find American potatoes (our white sweet potatoes); however, apparently in Italy these are only sold in tiny Asian specialty markets. If you are ever searching for sweet potatoes in Bergamo, you can find them at a small Vietnamese market on Via Angelo Maj.

For an idea on how to work sweet potatoes into Italian cuisine see:

Sweet Potato Gnocchi alla Gorgonzola

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