Dark purple potatos in groups along other brown and rooted vegetables next to odd shaped purple potatos on bunches all together.

Underground Crops

There are dozens of different food crops, from potatoes to cassava (manioc), whose edible part grows underground. Not all of these are actually the roots of the plant. Edible underground plant parts can be modified stems (corms like taro, rhizomes like ginger, or tubers like potatoes) or a short stem with modified leaves attached (bulbs like garlic).

Detoxifying Edible Plants

Manioc, also known as cassava or yucca, is a starchy root traditionally grown along the banks of the Amazon River, and is an incredibly important food source throughout much of South America and Africa. Manioc contains chemical compounds called cyanogenic glycosides, producing natural plant toxins (including cyanide) that must be processed correctly to remove and make the plant safe to eat. Many Indigenous Amazonian peoples have devised ingenious technologies to squeeze the cyanide from the starch once shredded, and then dry it to remove any excess toxins that remain.

Sweet Potatoes and Yams: Not the Same!

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), native to Central and South America, are in the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae) and have soft, orange flesh. By contrast, true yams (Dioscorea spp.), mostly native to Africa and Asia, are in the yam family (Dioscoreaceae) and tend to have rougher skin.

The many culinary preparations of tubers are as diverse as the plants themselves! Irish colcannon combines creamy mashed potatoes with nutritious cabbage or kale. In Brazil, cassava is processed to become tapioca, used to make pudding or tortilla-like flatbreads called tapioca nordestina.

Check out these fun facts about underground crops!

  • In 1974, Eric Jenkins grew 370 pounds of potatoes from one plant.
  • Ginger produces white and pink flower buds that bloom into yellow flowers. Because of the plant’s adaptability to warm climates, these flowers are often used for landscaping around subtropical homes.

Check out these recipes with your favorite underground crops, and try them at home and share your dish with us using #AroundTheTable.