Annuals Gardening Vegetables

Sweet Potato: the Super Food

By Maria Zampini

Last year I utilized the new Treasure Island Sweet Potato vines (hybrids of Ipomoea batatas) in my patio containers and this gardener found a new appreciation for these tuberous vegetables. And I’m ready to celebrate this superfood with my fellow gardeners. This root vegetable has seen an increase in popularity, especially compared to “regular” potatoes, due in part to being a healthier option. Sweet potatoes are lower in carbs, higher in antioxidant levels like lutein, have increased levels of vitamins, a lower glycemic index which means less blood sugar spikes and are a great source of fiber, iron, and calcium.

The best part? They are easy to grow!

A New Day Dawns for Sweet Potatoes

Container garden with Treasure Island Sweet potatoes.
The Treasure Island sweet potatoes: ornamental and edible.

Generally, these potatoes fall into two garden uses;

  1. Annual ornamental trailing vine. Home gardeners utilize them as a container ‘spiller’: a trailing plant. This type does not usually produce any edible tubers.
  2. Traditional sweet potato. Used in the vegetable garden to harvest and cook its edible tubers.

But, for this gardener, this typical scenario recently changed when I was introduced to the Treasure Island Sweet Potato line. They are a breeding breakthrough as the first edible AND ornamental sweet potatoes on the market. It’s like a two-for-one deal; the uniquely shaped, colorful leaves look great in mixed containers and taste great in salads and smoothies and then the different colored sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and make a perfect addition to healthy meals.

‘Makatea’ sweet potato grown with begonias and cordyline
‘Makatea’ variety was grown with begonias and cordyline to brighten a less sunny spot on the deck.

Named after Polynesian Islands, there are 5 selections and none of them are what you’d consider typical:

Tahiti sweet potato showing greenish purple cut leaves and purple tuber.
‘Tahiti’ PPAF—purple-fleshed roots with purple skin and green, deeply lobed leaves. Photo:
Tatakota sweet potato showing greenish purple lobed leaves and tuber with purple skin and orange flesh
‘Tatakoto’ PPAF—purple skin and orange flesh and dark green-purple lobed leaves. Photo:
Makatea sweet potato showing chartreuse heart-shaped leaves and tuber with orange skin and white flesh.
‘Makatea’ PPAF—orange skin with white flesh and bright, chartreuse, heart-shaped leaves. Photo:
Kaukura sweet potato showing purple heart-shaped leaves and tuber with orange skin and flesh.
‘Kaukura’ PPAF—orange skin and orange flesh roots with purple, heart-shaped leaves. Photo:
Manihi sweet potato showing purple maple leaves and tuber with orange skin and flesh.
‘Manihi’ PPAF—orange skin and orange roots with deep purple, maple leaf foliage. Photo:

*PPAF stands for Plant Patent Applied For.

Let’s Get Growing

Living in a condo overlooking Lake Erie, I grew my Treasure Island Sweet Potatoes in mixed containers.

‘Tahiti’ and ‘Manihi’ sweet potatoes  in deck boxes with calibrachoa Callie® ‘Pink Morn’.
Both ‘Tahiti’ and ‘Manihi’ varieties are featured in deck boxes with calibrachoa Callie® ‘Pink Morn’.
Kaukura’ sweet potato and Disco Diva™ Hollywood® hibiscus
Kaukura’ sweet potato and Disco Diva™ Hollywood® hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) were grown together to highlight the maroon flower centers matching the purple heart-shaped foliage.
White flower of ‘Manhini’ a purple center.
The ‘Manihi’ variety produces the greatest number of flowers. They bloomed a light whitish-purple with a purple center.

Here are a few final growing tips from the breeders:

  • Soil is key. Growing in containers may cause shape variability in the roots but they are still delicious! The best-shaped roots will come from plantings in the ground. Potted plants will form the best roots in heavy garden soil.
  • Normal practice is to plant sweet potato about 1 foot (30 cm) apart in a row and rows 3 feet (90 cm) apart. Remember to plant deeper so fresh nodes are in the soil to form the best-shaped roots.

Learn more: 

My fellow garden communicator Brie Arthur of Brie Grows produced her plants in the ground. Read her blog post to find out her experience in growing the Treasure Island Sweet Potatoes as a groundcover and her experience in cooking with them.

National Garden Bureau’s recent post on making Sweet Potato Skins using Treasure Island Sweet Potatoes Tatakoto and Tahiti.

Finally, Let’s Get Cooking

Tubers of different Treasure Island sweet potatoes
Tubers used in kitchen trial.

I received a fresh batch of the sweet potatoes to trial in the kitchen from the breeder. I literally spent one weekend researching recipes and the next one cooking and baking like crazy; it was FUN. I morphed into the #HomeCookinTheLand and the #HomeBakerinTheLand.

Here are a few of the Recipes I decided to try:

Mexican chicken, sweet potato and black bean skillet recipe
Mexican chicken, sweet potato and black bean skillet.

The first recipe was Mexican Chicken, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Skillet GF (gluten free) and I utilized ‘Manihi’. This was appealing because it is a 1-pot dish. This recipe taught me how to parboil the sweet potatoes in the microwave.

Sweet potato fries
Sweet potato fries

I’ve been a Sweet Potato Fries (GF) lover for years, but I’d never made my own before. This recipe from the Barefoot Contessa was so easy and I’ve already gotten multiple requests to duplicate from my family! I utilized ‘Kaukura’ and served them alongside grilled chicken tenders over lettuce. Tip: try dipping sweet potato fries in honey. Trust me on this, just trust me.

Whiskey-glazed sweet potatoes
Whiskey-glazed sweet potatoes

When I came across Whiskey-Glazed Sweet Potatoes from Guy Fieri of Food Network, I was like yes, I must try! I used a mix of ‘Manihi’ and ‘Kaukura’ and ‘Gala’ apples.

Additional recipes I tried were Bacon-Guacamole Bites on Sweet Potato Chips (GF) made with ’Kaukura’ and‘Tatakoto’ from The Wellness Mamacookbook; a Chocolate Mousse Pie (GF, dairy free) made with ‘Manihi’ from the Bakerita cookbook and Sweet Potato, Blue Cheese and Spinach Frittata made with ‘Makatea” from The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet book.

The article above was written by Maria Zampini, Author of Garden-pedia: An A to Z Guide to Gardening Terms. The post itself was provided by the National Garden Bureau and its members.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

12 comments on “Sweet Potato: the Super Food

  1. Karen McCarthy

    Love this post, may I have permission to share it to my social media for my small, independent nursery located in z5 Central Oregon? Thank you!

  2. Hi Larry, I own a small independent garden center in Central Oregon (z5) and will be bringing in 3 of the varieties mentioned in your excellent post – seriously it was the most informative piece I have found on the subject. I was wondering if you would allow me permission to share your post on our social media?
    Thanks so much! Karen @ Madras Garden Depot

  3. I am told that Chinese yams(not potatoes) will grow in zone 6-10. I have not grown it.

  4. Most of what used to be grown here as ‘yams’ were actually sweet potatoes. They look funny to me. I still sort of expect them to be related to ‘common’ potatoes, and resemble them. It also seems odd that they really are tuberous roots, just like they look. It seems like a trick question. Like, . . . aren’t they just distended stolons?

  5. Sweet potato is actually a super food. Thank you ?

  6. Margaret

    Where can I purchase?

  7. I have had a purple S.potato, it was great.

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