The sweet potato is the large thick edible pink-skinned root of a tropical plant of the bindweed family. It was brought to Europe from Central America by the Spanish, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was quite popular in Britain, not least because of its reputation as an aphrodisiac. Thereafter it went into a decline, and it was not until after the Second World War that large-scale immigration from parts of the world where it is indigenous revived its fortunes in Britain. Its name in Haitian is batata, which, filtered through Spanish patata, gave English potato. The term clung on into the eighteenth century (when the lovesick Falstaff greeted Mistress Ford with ‘Let the sky rain potatoes’ in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor (1598) he was referring to sweet potatoes—and appealing to their aphrodisiac effect), but from the end of the sixteenth century the potato itself was making increasingly urgent claims on the name, and it became necessary to distinguish the sweet potato in some way. At first it was called the Spanish potato, and towards the end of the eighteenth century we find the first references to the term sweet potato.
In some regional varieties of American English, sweet potatoes are called yams.
Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.