El camote (Ipomoea batatus), the sweet potato, is often confused with the yam (Dioscorea spp.). Both plants create edible tubers. However, sweet potatoes are related to the morning glory and yams to the lily. The tubers can be white, yellow, purple, pink, brown, or orange and have been used by indigenous groups for paint coloring.
In Mexico, this tuberous delicacy is called el camote from the Nahuatl word camotli. Many experts believe it was first domesticated in Peru around 2800 B.C. and had become established in most of Mexico as well as Central and South America before the Spanish arrived.
Juan de Grijalva’s interactions with the Maya in the 1518 expedition describe los camotes as tasting like roasted chestnuts. The bishop to Yucatan, Diego de Landa, recorded in 1572 that the Maya used los camotes to bulk up pozole and atole when the corn crop was low. Los camotes were served to Cortez in 1519 during a banquet with Moctezuma.
Los camotes continue to be a common fall edition to the Mexican diet. They can thrive in poor soil and their vines reduce the growth of weeds, so they are often planted as companion crops. Los camotes de Santa Clara, originally produced by the nuns of the Convento de Santa Clara in the state of Puebla, are considered sweets of the highest quality.
The camote contains complex carbohydrates, fiber, iron, calcium, and Vitamins A, C, and B6. The orange variety has substantial antioxidant beta-carotene. In traditional medicine, the camote is prescribed for fevers and as a heart tonic. The leaves are applied topically to treat skin infections and wounds.
Ipomoea batatus is useful in the treatment of hyperglycemia. The leaves demonstrate anti-cancer, hypolipidemic, and anti-atherosclerogenic properties, supporting their use as a heart tonic. The tuber has shown to be effective in improving the function of mitochondria in the liver damaged because of obesity, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome.
The leaves from the purple camote can be made into a tea high in antioxidants. The tuber from the same variety has antibacterial properties and anthocyanins, which reduce blood uric acid levels.
Camotes en Almíbar
- 2 medium-sized camotes (Ipomoea batatus)
- 1 cup of water
- ½ stick of canela (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- 1 piloncillo cone
Wash the camotes. Place them in a pot with the canela, piloncillo, and water. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 25 minutes. The camotes should be slightly firm in the middle yet. Remove the camotes and cut them in half. Serve covered in the syrup they were cooked in. Many in Mexico add a bit of milk to the bowl as well, but it’s optional.
Interested in natural remedies? Uncover herbal remedies from traditional Mexican sources for healing and wellness in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.