Cotacachi / Ecuador / Ecuadorian food / Living in Ecuador

Sweet Potato Dreams

Sweet Potato Dreams

At our last gringo get-together, Cotacachi organic gardener Nancy Showalter shared with me that her garden and orchard are thriving. She is especially happy to have found some sweet potatoes to plant that are like those in the U.S.  This was exciting news to me and I’ll be visiting her soon to see her new potato vines.

sweet potato

Bill Mahon, former Cotacachi condo owner, also told me that he has lots of potatoes this year, a bumper crop, on his farm in Arkansas.  Both his sweet potatoes and white potatoes are growing prolifically.  When he mentioned sweet potatoes my mouth began to water for the nutrient-packed vegetable of my North American childhood that I miss so much in Ecuador.

Bill promised to bring me some sweet potato slips when he comes to Ecuador next month so I can grow the U.S. sweet potatoes I am craving from my Louisiana upbringing.  I have never seen them in Ecuador and have had to settle for the local variety.

My mother would whip up sweet potato pies with perfect flaky crust. They were every bit as good as pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving.   Topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream there’s nothing better.

Every Christmas dinner included a gooey, sweet potato casserole spiced with cinnamon and topped with marshmallows.  And the yams!

The yams of my childhood were dark orange.  My mother would take them piping hot from the oven and break one open, dripping natural yam sugars.  We’d slather on lots of butter and brown sugar and dig in.

The sweet potatoes in Ecuador are called camote. They seem to be very similar to the purple  kumara of Peru and New Zealand. They are white inside with a thick, very hard-to-peel exterior. The peeling has a 1/8 inch inner lining that is purple but the flesh itself is white with purple veins. In addition, when I peel them, the skin oozes a substance that sticks to my fingers and has to be scrubbed off with soap.

While the local sweet potatoes in Ecuador are fine when boiled in soups and stews, I’ve found that no amount of butter, milk or cream will overcome their innate dryness when I bake them.  So I can’t wait to grow my own succulent yams and sweet potatoes.

White potatoes present other challenges.  They develop a green skin that is said to be toxic.  Friends of ours say their research shows that the reason for this is that the potato has developed a defense against predators. The toxic skin keeps them from being eaten when they are dug out of the ground.

Others say that the green skin results from exposure to sunlight.  Regardless of the reason, we always cover ours after we buy them and also peel any green ones before we cook them.

There are so many different kinds of potatoes in Ecuador and even one small potato-looking tuber that is not a potato at all, but is a vegetable that is sticky when cooked.  It’s good in soups and is a favorite of Ecuadorians.  I’m beginning to learn the differences and know which ones are good for baking  or for mashed potatoes.


Terra Chips, a U.S. brand of exotic vegetable chips, makes my favorite chips.  Slices of taro, also known as malanga or dasheen; yuca, or cassava; several kinds of sweet potatoes and parsnips are flavored with sea salt, tamari, Worcestershire, organic cane sugar juice and beet juice.  They are one of the things I always made a bee-line for when I’m back in the U.S.


Now I’ve found  something similar in Ecuador—Kiwa vegetable chips, made from yuca, camote (sweet potato) white carrots, beets (remolacha) and green banana (platano verde).

I can’t wait to slice up a bunch of my own exotic veggies and try my hand at making home-make vegetable chips.  I’ll either dehydrate them or bake them.  Then I’ll be eating something not only exotic, but extremely tasty and healthy. Perhaps they’ll satisfy my yen for yams and sweet potatoes until my own plants start bearing.



  1. I found your blog while looking for species of potatoes in Equador. My cousin is living in Equador doing mission work. Enjoyed your blog about good old USA sweet potatoes

  2. Thanks Linda for the info, I lived in Florida with all the kudzu, Asian water lilies and the melaleuca trees taking over the native plants. Here in Ohio, the nurseries are not allowed to sell certain plants and the nature clubs have us pulling out invasive plants. I certainly hope that Bill can bring the slips as I also have fond memories of sweet potatoe pie recipies, even though my favorite is just baked with cinammon and brown sugar.

  3. All well and good tosatisfy your craving, I’m just curious whether the Ecuadorian customs will let your friend bring in the slips. Also, their planting would be introducing a vegetable that is not indigenous to the area. Good luck and happy gardening.

    • Naturally we have thought of that. You can bring plants that are commercially sold or sealed in their packages for shipping. We are going to check out the legality of this before bringing anything.
      I certainly don’t want to add to the list of invasive plants already growing in Ecuador. Eucalyptus is one of those already here, introduced over 100 years ago. It has rampantly replaced many of the endemic trees in populated areas of Ecuador. Their leaves are toxic to other plants and they kill off other species. Not much can grow underneath them.
      There are already sweet potatoes growing here and I don’t think the innocuous sweet potato or yam will be an invasive problem, but you never know.
      Plants that grow as small houseplants in the U.S. are trees or shrubs here. I’ve seen huge poinsettias, Christmas cactus and lantana, so thanks for the reminder to be conscious and prudent.
      I wouldn’t want sweet potato vines to take over the country like kudzu!
      Anyone else have any information to share about whether it’s okay to introduce another variety of sweet potato to Ecuador? Let me know. . .

  4. Susan Herron says:

    My husband and I are making our first trip to Ecuador on September 7th for 15 days. We are so excited about visiting this interesting country as well as trying many of the local dishes.

    Here is a recipe for sweet potatoes that I recently found and that has become a favorite of ours. Hope you enjoy it as well.

    Curried-Spiced Sweet Potatoes from Cooking Light, March 2008

    Qty Measure Ingredient
    2 lbs Sweet potatoes
    1/2 Tbsp. Butter
    1/2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
    1 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
    1/2 tsp Salt
    1/2 tsp Curry powder
    1/4 tsp Ground Cumin
    1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
    1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper

    Place peeled and cubed potatoes in a medium saucepan; cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until tender. Drain well; return to pan and keep warm.

    While potatoes are cooking, place sliced onions in large fry pan and slowly cook in olive oil until caramelized to a medium brown color.

    Once potatoes have cooked place them in bowl with butter and olive oil and mash to the desired consistency. Add the spices and mix well. After you have mixed in the spices well, taste the potatoes as you may wish to add more of the spices. If potatoes are dry add milk or water until the desired consistency has been reached.

    To serve, place in serving dish and top with caramelized onions or simply serve on place topped with the caramelized onions.

    • Thanks for the recipe. I can’t wait to try it out.

      It comes on Sunday morning, about an hour away from the time my childhood Louisiana family would have been sitting down to Sunday dinner after spending the morning at New Friendship Baptist where I played the piano for a few years.

      Our usual Sunday meal was southern fried chicken, mashed or sweet potatoes, string beans, fruit salad, homemade yeast rolls and apple pie. And the occasional sweet potato pie, but usually that was a holiday treat.

  5. I appreciate your articles about food, Linda. This is real and really important.

    I would appreciate getting one of the slips so I can start growing them on my farm near Pululahua.

  6. I agree with everything you have written about potatoes, especially the yen for real sweet potatoes. When you grow your own, I want to be first in line for the option to buy them from you on a regular basis…I will work the garden with you if need be, my friend!

    I too use the local version of sweet potatoes in soups and stews, but I also boil and mash them with cream and milk and they are delicious. Interestingly, they remind me in tatse of chestnuts!

    Yes, let us have a movement introducing PROPER sweet potatoes/yams to Ecuador!