CG: Sweet Potato Chips

Ok, so I was planning on doing another culinary post a lot sooner than this but other posts got in the way.  Like when you’re writing a story and new ideas keep trying to distract you and pull you away from what you should be working on.

Today’s recipe is sweet potato chips and is adapted from the one found on Not Your Average College Food by Emily.  If fact, a lot of my future culinary posts will be adapted recipes from this blog because they’re just so good.

Unfortunately my sweet potato chips did not come out exactly like Emily’s.  First of all I got the wrong kind of sweet potatoes. I got the white-fleshed ones instead of the orange ones.  Yes, I am a twenty-something year old who did not know there were two kinds of sweet potatoes.

White and orange varieties of sweet potatoes.  Image from cheftessbakeresse.blogspot.com

White and orange varieties of sweet potatoes. Image from cheftessbakeresse.blogspot.com

In fact, sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing, not even the same species as I found out after researching the two.  According to the Huffington Post, this mistaken identity was caused by the U.S. government and USDA mislabeling them.  The government was trying to distinguish between the white and orange versions of the sweet potato.

Real yams are native to Africa, Asia and other tropical areas.  They have a black skin and are white, purple or reddish inside.  Their size also varies from regular potato size to as long as five feet!  That’s almost as tall as me, which means enough yam to feed a village.  Sweet potatoes on the other hand are usually always smaller than yams and have thick middles with tapered ends.  They also originate in Central America (vs the potato, which comes from South America).

You can view a few of the other varieties here, such as the Japanese versions and North Carolina State University has a informative chart listing each of the different features of the two.

Sweet Potato Geography:

As stated before, sweet potatoes are from Central America but according to a study titled “Disentangling the Origins of the Cultivated Sweet Potato” by Caroline Roullier et al, the origins of cultivation and domestication of the plant are still not completely known.  Today sweet potatoes are one of the most widely grown staple crops.

After studying the genetics of the sweet potato, the researchers proposed that sweet potato cultivation has multiple origins and “evolved from at least two distinct autopolyploidization events in polymorphic wild populations of a single progenitor species”.  Other studies cited say that the ancestor of the sweet potato could have resulted due to the natural hybridization between two wild relatives (the I. trifida and I. triloba), thus placing the sweet potato somewhere between the Yucatan peninsula and the Orinoco basin (from Mexico to Venezuela).  Another study Roullier et al mentioned said that sweet potatoes derive from a different group, one forming an autopolyploid complex.

Origins of the sweet potato.  Image from Roullier et al 2013.

Origins of the sweet potato. Image from Roullier et al 2013.

Roullier et al though suggested that there are possibly two landraces (gene pools), a Northern and Southern lineage.  The Northern stems from Central America and the Caribbean while the Southern stems from northwestern South America.  They conclude that these two different gene pools were domesticated independently but eventually met thanks to human migration.

Sweet Potato Chips

Ingredients

1 sweet potato (either kind but the orange ones probably taste better)

Oil (however much you need to coat all the slices)

Thyme, Basil, Salt (I didn’t have any oregano at the time but you could probably also add that)

Garlic and onion powder (as much as you like)

Parsley (optional garnish)

Preparation

Wash the sweet potato, remove any eyes or sprouts that may be on it, peel (or not depending on if you like the skin or not) and slice them (not too thick or thin).  Thick ones will have a soft, chewy center, while thin ones will cook faster but also be prone to burning.  After that put the oil, herbs, salt and powders into a bowl, then coat each chip in the mixture and lay them single layer on parchment paper in a pan with sides!  I emphasize the pan with sides so that the oil does not spill out and go everywhere.  I mistake that left me with a lot of cleaning to do.  Cook at 350 F for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Flip them over and cook again for the same amount of time.  You can garnish them with a piece of parsley afterwards.

While mine had many hits and misses, some burned, some not cooked enough and lots of misshapen chips, I still enjoyed them.  The thick chewy center ones were actually really good.  They had a nice crisp outer edge but then a soft and chewy center that provided two different tastes in one chip.  So over all I suggest doing thick slices for several reasons: less chopping, less burned ones, and more variety in taste.

Sweet potato chips.  Photo by Laylita Day.

Sweet potato chips. Photo by Laylita Day.

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