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FOOD | Endorsing the Sweet Potato Odyssey

Originally posted on Megan Brown’s food blog Mookie’s Food Odyssey on Thursday, January 24, 2013.

The Sweet Potato Lover’s Cookbook will soon arrive at a postal box that my sister kindly shares with me for large orders. This book has over 100 recipes! It will be nice to have on hand, as one of my goals is to expand my student diet to include more than just carrots, hummus, Nilla wafers and Club crackers.

(Image courtesy of
(Image courtesy of

Perhaps more interesting than my own journey is that of the sweet potato. NPR reports that although Cristoforo Colombo–yeah that’s how they spell it in Italian–likely helped introduce tomatoes to the Italian foods we eat, and hot peppers to Chinese and Indian repasts, he was less integral in the sweet potato’s international debut than we’d previously thought.

Sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America. Captain Cook’s sweet potato remnants (which are housed in a London museum) are linked by DNA to the root vegetables in Ecuador and Peru. But, some Polynesian sweet potatoes date back several hundred years prior to that, meaning that Polynesians likely went by boat to South America to get them. Proof’s in the language. The Polynesian word for sweet potato, “kuumala” is very close to “kumara,” or “cumal,” the words for sweet potato in Quechua, the native Andean tongue.

This gives me an even greater respect for those orange root veggies, traveling countless miles between Polynesia and South America before so-called civilized people braved the treacherous waters. I find myself on my own odyssey for the vitamin-rich tuber. Had I my druthers at the restaurant where I work, we’d replace the Idaho or Russet Burbank with the sweet potato.

But, folks like their salt and I have a feeling price is partly to blame. Restaurant Depot’s San Francisco Produce associate tells me that Idaho potatoes cost $6.95 for a five-pound bag whereas sweet potatoes ring up at $14.95 for the same quantity.

In my wildest fantasy, I walk into a McDonalds and say, ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ But, the cashier would probably be in their early twenties and not get the reference or care about my health. ‘What’s your order, stupid,’ I’d hear back from them. I’d then have to sulk over to Burger King for sweet potato fries or just order a cone of McDonalds soft-serve. I can never turn that stuff down.