Once considered a fringe food by the U.S. culinary mainstream, sweet potatoes are fast becoming popular everywhere from fast food chains to gourmet restaurants and the White House table.
Three years ago, the “Wall Street Journal” wrote in a front page article that except for their use in an iconic, marshmallow-smothered Thanksgiving dish, sweet potatoes were a wholly uninteresting food. Yet over the past two years, the number of restaurants offering a sweet potato-based side dish has increased 40 percent. Food giant ConAgra just spent $155 million to open the world’s first plant devoted entirely to frozen sweet potato products, and U.S. farmers are planning to harvest a record-setting 2 billion pound crop.
“It’s not something we believe is a fad,” said Andy Johnston of ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston.
According to research conducted by ConAgra, 30 percent of sweet potato eaters report consuming the vegetable several times per month. Only 12 percent eat them only during the Thanksgiving and winter holiday season.
Analysts attribute the sweet potato’s growing popularity in large part to sweet potato fries, which account for the majority of the vegetable’s presence in U.S. restaurants. In fact, Google searches for “sweet potato fries” increased 40 percent over the past year.
Sweet potatoes have also become popular among more conscious eaters, however, in part because they are high in vitamins and have a low glycemic index in spite of their sweetness. Both Weight Watchers and the South Beach Diet have recommended sweet potatoes, roasted in a little oil rather than fried, and doctors are recommending them for diabetics.
“Within the diabetic community, it’s become pretty common knowledge that sweet potatoes are good for you, so there’s a groundswell because so many people have diabetes now,” said chef Michel Nischan, who helps host a TV show for people with diabetes.
Sources for this story include: nytimes.com.