This State Produces The Most Sweet Potatoes In The US

When you think of sweet potatoes, what do you imagine? A dish of candied sweet potatoes on the Thanksgiving table? Sweet potato fries or maybe you have a sweet tooth and your first thought was sweet potato pie? Either way, while this root vegetable has long been around and popular for generations in southern states in the United States, sweet potatoes have been experiencing a cultural renaissance, growing in popularity and demand since the early 2000s nationwide, according to NPR

According to the University of Missouri, there are two types of sweet potatoes (or Ipomea batatas): The white ones, which are drier and more starchy, and the orange kind which are moist and more fleshy. They are not to be confused with yams (of the Dioscorea species), which are actually not generally found in the United States. Food & Wine explains that if you see something marketed as yams, it is usually just the softer, orange variety of sweet potato, which has been falsely called a yam throughout history. Just to add another layer of confusion, despite their name, sweet potatoes are completely unrelated to regular potatoes.

According to the University of Missouri and the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, sweet potatoes are native to the Americas and favor warm weather conditions for growing. While that means they can be grown throughout South and Central America, in the United States, the crop is mainly grown in the South. In fact, you have just one state to thank for most of the sweet potatoes you've eaten in the United States. 

North Carolina's state vegetable

Just three states have made up the total of commercial sweet potato production in the United States since 2019: California, North Carolina, and Mississippi, according to Carolina Demography. But which state is number one? Whom do we have to applaud for making all the sweet potato dishes we imagine, a reality? 

Drum roll, please! It's...North Carolina. This state takes the number one spot, producing 61% of all U.S. sweet potatoes. In 2019, North Carolina produced approximately 2 billion pounds of sweet potatoes, bringing in about $324 million. According to NPR, this lead has to do with the history of tobacco farmers in the state. With a decrease in demand for tobacco, but a recent increase in demand for sweet potatoes, tobacco farmers noticed and took advantage of the crop as a good replacement for tobacco crops.

But increased demand isn't limited to the United States. David Trinklein, an associate professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri, told NPR that international exports of sweet potatoes have also recently increased, with the majority going to Great Britain and other parts of northern Europe, where temperatures are too cold to grow sweet potatoes. Looks like North Carolina sweet potato farmers will be busy.