Hardier varieties of orange fleshed sweet potatoes bred in the USA seem to be catching on with the more enthusiastic growers in the UK and have succeeded here in our exhibit at the Eden Project this year.
Sweet potatoes originate from Latin America and their flesh is in a variety of colours ranging from white to purple and through all shades of yellow and orange.
The colour of the flesh can be significant – the more intense the colour of orange the higher the level of Beta carotene. Beta carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A which is one of three important micronutrients that are lacking in the diet of millions of people in the developing world. In severe cases a lack of Vitamin A can lead to a form of blindness and a range of other medical conditions. Carotene rich sweet potatoes have been promoted as a way of reducing Vitamin A deficiency in Africa as part of a project Vitamin A for Africa (VitAA) instigated by Harvest Plus and funded by the Gates Foundation. An early part of the work involved assessing local communities in Africa’s acceptability of orange sweet potatoes where white fleshed sweet potatoes has often been the norm. It seems the colour of the flesh is less significant than the requirement for sweet potatoes with high dry matter..
At the Terra Madre Patrick Tungaroo from Kenya spoke about his work with sweet potatoes, he explained about the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes and how they are significant for urban agriculture. He said that children who avoided Vitamin A deficiency were less prone to Malaria, diarrhoea and measles. When health and immunity are down diseases moves from one member of a family to another more easily. He said. There was a shortage of clean planting stock of high yielding drought tolerant cultivars with the desired flesh characteristics.
He highlighted the value added products that could be made from sweet potatoes including chapatis, buns, cakes, doughnuts, crisps, crackers (made by women’s groups) as well as relishes, juice, porridge and boiled made from sweet potato.