November is Sweet Potato Awareness month

Sweet potatoes are a healthy source of fiber, potassium, and vitamins A and C.

November is a month known for many things: the usual onset of cold weather, the appearance of snow, “the gales of November”, and of course Thanksgiving. November is also the proud owner of National Sandwich Day, Nov.3. As well as being recognized as National Critical Infrastructure Protection month. In addition to these important recognitions, November is also Sweet Potato Awareness month! 

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are herbaceous perennial vines in the convolvulaceae family often known as the “morning glory family”. They belong to a different family than yams and potatoes and are not tubers but enlarged roots. The common U.S. potato belongs to the solanaceae family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplant, and tobacco. 

Type of Potato

Botanical Family

Botanical Genus

Botanical Species

Sweet Potato



I. batatas

Common U.S. Potato



S. tuberosum




D. alata*

Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams (dioscorea alata), especially this time of year. A few distinctions: yams are not grown in the United States so they are rarely found in stores. Yams likely originated in West Africa and sweet potatoes in Central America. While sweet potatoes have smooth, delicate skin, yams tend to have rough, thick skin. For more information on determining the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, take a look at this document by University of California.  

Production of sweet potatoes occurs on every continent except Antarctica, mostly between 48 degrees north and 40 degrees south latitude. They grow well in slightly acidic, well-drained soils and require full sun. China is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the world, accounting for 81 percent of global production in 2007. Sweet potatoes are produced in the U.S. as well; states producing the most are North Carolina, California, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Sweet potato production showed a steady increase from 2000-2014.


Grilled sweet potato wedges, photo credit: North Carolina Sweet Potato’s

Sweet potatoes are an important food crop for both humans and livestock. George Washington was thought to have farmed sweet potatoes on his farm in Virginia in the 1700’s. He was probably aware that sweet potatoes offer 200 percent of the USDA recommended allowance of Vitamin A, nearly 50 percent of the recommended allowance for vitamin C, and over 400 percent of the recommended daily allowance of beta-carotene. They are also an excellent source of fiber.  According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the sweet potato ranks number one in terms nutrition, when compared to other vegetables. There are several different varieties of sweet potatoes from the Covington to the Carolina Ruby and more, each with different colors and flavor profiles that lend themselves to different dishes. 

With all of this new information in hand, you should be able to impress your friends and families over a Thanksgiving feast that I hope includes sweet potatoes (not yams). If not, I encourage you to at least buy a sweet potato and contemplate heaving it off a crumbling piece of critical infrastructure. Other interesting seasonal food stories like: “The Life-Cycle of the Thanksgiving turkey”, “Hosting a Friendsgiving Celebration”, and “Tips for a Healthier Turkey Day” can be found by clicking on the appropriate link or searching Michigan State University Extension news

For more information contact your local Michigan State University Extension educator.

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