The Manitoba and federal governments announced a $210,000 investment in agricultural research Monday, focused – at least in part – on building a better yam.
According to the province, demand for sweet potatoes in Canada has jumped 83 per cent in the past decade. However, comparatively few yams are grown in Manitoba, meaning most are imported.
The cash investment will help fund research into new varieties of sweet potato that can handle Manitoba’s cooler climate and shorter growing season.
“In broad strokes, the sweet potato is grown in the central and southern United States,” said Tom Gonsalves, an industry development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture. “The varieties used there took advantage of the longer growing season than we have … we just don’t have as many frost-free days.”
The trick to adapting the yam to Manitoba will be making it mature faster, Gonsalves said, without sacrificing things like flavour or storability. As the plant grows, starches in the yam turn to sugar, he said, so accelerating the process can make sweet potatoes less sweet.
The possibility of more local yams was music to the taste buds of Winnipeg restauranteurs.
“There’s definitely been a movement to sweet potato in general. It’s more health conscious,” said Emily Butcher, a chef at Deer and Almond.
Butcher tries to source as many local ingredients as she can. She said the restaurant doesn’t have yams on the menu at the moment, but that could change if more homegrown ones are available.