Tuesday, October 19, 2010
In most of Brazil, the yellow-fleshed sweet potato, the one that is mislabeled yam in the USA and Canada, doesn't appear at all in markets and supermarkets. The sweet potatoes I've seen in this country are invariably purple skinned and with a greenish white flesh. Yams (inhame) are also eaten in Brazil, having been brought from Africa with slave populations, but there's none of the confusion that exists in English between these two tubers.
Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious, and a valuable addition to the Brazilian diet. In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to a number of other vegetables. They looked at fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, and the sweet potato scored highest of all the vegetables studied, with a score of 184. The standard score, 100, represented the nutritional value of the common potato.
In traditional Brazilian cooking, the sweet potato is served in many ways and in many dishes. It can be simply boiled or mashed, it can be roasted, it can be added to soups and stews, and as in the southern US (sweet potato pie) it can be an ingredient in desserts. The sweet potato is an essential ingredient in many dishes that bear African influence, as the slaves who cooked in the great houses and shanties of sugar-cane plantations arrived in Brazil already familiar with the yam, which can be used in very similar ways.
Today, in Brazil, the sweet potato is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Long considered a low-class and low-interest vegetable, batata-doce dishes are coming out of some of the most creative and inventive restaurant kitchens in the land. The next few posts here on Flavors of Brazil will feature a couple of the many faces of this delicious and extremely-nutritious tuber.