Tag Archives: sweet potato

The Traveling Sweet Potato

If you like sweet potatoes, ScienceNOW has an interesting article on the travels and domestication of the humble sweet potato.  An excerpt:

Humans domesticated the sweet potato in the Peruvian highlands about 8000 years ago, and previous generations of scholars believed that Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced the crop to Southeast Asia and the Pacific beginning in the 16th century. But in recent years, archaeologists and linguists have accumulated evidence supporting another hypothesis: Premodern Polynesian sailors navigated their sophisticated ships all the way to the west coast of South America and brought the sweet potato back home with them. The oldest carbonized sample of the crop found by archaeologists in the Pacific dates to about 1000 C.E.—nearly 500 years before Columbus’s first voyage.

Some versions of the paleo diet don’t include white or sweet potatoes, probably because they originated in the New World (particularly Peru).  They wouldn’t have been eaten by our prehistoric ancestors in Africa.  I haven’t done the research yet, but I bet northeast Africa had a starchy tuber roughly equivalent to potatoes.

Steve Parker, M.D.

h/t Ivor Goodbody