In 2015, farmers produced more sweet potatoes than in any year since World War II. After the war increased industrialization saw production drop for sweet potatoes and as production dropped so did consumption.
Fast-forward to the 2000s when the sweet potato began its ascension. One big reason: the fad diet. For anyone on the South Beach Diet, Paleo diet, or Atkins diet.
“All these diets that have tons and tons of followers are really touting sweet potatoes as being this ‘super food,’” McGreger says.
As Americans were encouraged to cut sugar intake and eat more fiber and antioxidants, the sweet potato – chock full of vitamins -- began to show up on plates again. With a long growing tradition and a climate suitable for cultivation, sweet potatoes are local to just about every farmer in the U.S. That makes them ripe for diners that care about eating local. Schools started serving them for breakfast and lunch. Top chefs incorporated them as a quintessential Southern food.
In 2000, Americans ate about 4 pounds of sweet potatoes per person. Today, it’s nearly double that, at 7.5 pounds per person.
“Right now, the largest producer of sweet potatoes is North Carolina,” she says. “Those are tobacco farmers that have switched to sweet potatoes because it's a relatively good cash crop to replace tobacco.”