Sweet potatoes have been on the Thanksgiving tablets in the US for over a century, mainly because American history books often call root crops one of the country's native plants. But there is a good chance that the story Americans tell about sweet potatoes is nothing but a myth.
According to a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the vegetables could actually be an immigrant from Asia. The sweet potato is part of the Morning Glory family, and scientists have long believed that it originated in North America around 35 million years ago thanks to plant-fossil evidence. But a research team at Indiana University discovered and identified 17 very ancient fossil records from the Dawn Leaf during a trip to Meghalaya in northeastern India, some of which are 57 million years old.
"I think this will change people's ideas," the researchers said in a statement. "It will be a data point that will be picked up and used in other work in which researchers are trying to find the time of evolution of large groups of flowering plants."
The researchers note the leaves they found in the genus Ipomoea which includes sweet potatoes, but also hundreds of other plants. From a technical point of view, scientists are therefore not yet sure that sweet potatoes grow in this region ̵
Regardless of where they come from, sweet potato is one of the world's most important crops today. That's because it packs a nutritious punch and can be grown just about anywhere. During the Great Depression in the US, sweet potatoes grew in popularity because they were cheap and were considered healthy.
From the 1940s, when US soldiers returned home from the war, the economy rebounded. People could afford to buy rusty potatoes from stores, and the newly industrialized agricultural system hit the sweet potato market hard and cut production.
The sweet potato began again, although in the 2000s occurred in many diets, including the South Beach (which was created in 2003), Paleo and Atkins food regimens. Since then, the health community has crowned sweet potato as superfood, and the US farmers who grow it have enjoyed considerable market promotion after decades of decline. And now, it seems, the trend will not slow down soon.
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