Sweet Potato Leaves
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Sweet potato leaves are medium to large in size and are cordate, or heart-shaped with pointed tips. The leaves grow in an alternate pattern and may be palmate or known as having multiple lobes depending on the variety. Sweet potato leaves range in color from dark to yellow-green or purple and tend to be darker on the surface and lighter on the underside. They grow on slender, green stems rising from long, creeping vines, and these vines can grow to four meters in length. The top ten centimeters of the leaves and stems are the most tender and the most commonly consumed. Sweet potato leaves have a slight bitterness when raw, but when cooked the leaves take on a mild, delicately sweet flavor with a taste similar to spinach and water spinach.
Sweet potato leaves are available year-round.
Sweet potato leaves, botanically classified as Ipomoea batatas, grow on an herbaceous perennial vine and belongs to the Convolvulaceae, or morning-glory family. Also known as Camote or Kumara, sweet potato plants are grown mostly for their sweet, tuberous root vegetable, but the leaves, shoots, and flowers are also edible and used in culinary applications. China is the largest producer of the sweet potato, and it is one of the world’s main food crops. The leaves can be continuously harvested until the root vegetables are fully-grown, making sweet potatoes a good crop for times of scarcity. In fact, the sweet potato was known as a “famine food” during the Great Kyoho Famine in 1732, as well as in the post-World War II period.
Sweet potato leaves contain niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, fiber, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. They also contain essential minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.
Sweet potato leaves can be consumed in both raw and cooked applications such as blanching, sautéing, or stir-frying. They can be used raw in salads, green smoothies, or in place of any leafy green, such as spinach or turnip greens. The simplest way to prepare Sweet potato leaves is to blanch them in hot or boiling water. They can also be sautéed with garlic and olive oil or cooked in coconut milk and served over rice or pasta. Wash Sweet potato leaves well and rough-chop into smaller pieces before cooking. If they are being boiled, the cooking water may be reserved for later use as a slightly bitter broth or as a health drink as the water will contain nutrients from the leaves. Sweet potato leaves pair well with savory flavor enhancers such as fish sauce or dried shrimp, aromatics such as garlic, onion, and ginger, meats such as chicken, beef, pork, or fish, red bell peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Sweet potato leaves should be used as fresh as possible as they are prone to wilting. To store, place them in a sealed bag in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator.
Sweet potato leaves are largely used as a vegetable in the islands of the Pacific Ocean and Asian and African countries. In folk remedies, Sweet potato leaves are used to treat irritations of the mouth and throat and can be crushed and used in ointments to help treat skin conditions such as rashes. In Brazil, a hot water decoction of Sweet potato leaves was historically used to help reduce appetite and symptoms of metabolic issues.
Sweet potato plants are native to South America and were originally cultivated by the Incans. They were then brought to Europe by Spanish explorers and reached Britain before the arrival of the Irish potato in the 1500s. Today, Sweet potato leaves can be found at local markets in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, Central America, and the United States.
Recipes that include Sweet Potato Leaves. One is easiest, three is harder.