Seasonal Snippet: Sweet Potatoes & Why We Love Them

Seasonal Snippet: Sweet Potatoes & Why We Love Them

Contributed by Katy Morris

Whipped to creamy perfection and topped with toasted pecans? Roasted and sprinkled with a dash of cinnamon? Perhaps baked into a cupcake and generously frosted?

There are so many ways to enjoy sweet potatoes; it’s hard to choose just one. And given we are in the throes of Thanksgiving menu planning right now, we’re serving up everything you need to know about this highly nutritious but slightly unattractive veggie in this month’s Seasonal Snippet

What is the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?

Yams and sweet potatoes are NOT the same thing. The naming confusion dates back to the 18th century when African slaves encountered sweet potatoes and naturally thought they were their native yams.

If you go to the market today and ask for yams, chances are you’re going to get sweet potatoes.  Yams are actually grown in tropical climates like Africa, so they are definitely not going to be local.

True yams are starchier, drier and less sweet than sweet potatoes.

Not to confuse you even more, but sweet potatoes aren’t even potatoes – they are members of the Convolvulaceae family along with morning glory, whereas potatoes, like eggplants and tomatoes, are part of the Solanaceae family!


What should I know about the varieties?

There are thousands of varieties of sweet potatoes grown throughout the world ranging in skin color from shades of white to purplish-red. Inside, their flesh can be creamy white, purple and of course orange. Simply stated, those with a deeper orange color have a stronger, sweet flavor and contain more nutrients (we’re talking a super high content in vitamin A and C as well as iron, calcium and much more).


How can I choose the best tasting one?

Look for firm, small to medium sized ones that look blemish free and feel heavy for their size. If you’re planning on baking them whole, try to choose uniform looking ones so they will cook evenly.

Did you know that sweet potato vines are also edible? Pick some up if you see them at your local farmers’ market – they can be added to a simple sautéed veggie dish.



How should I cook them?

 The method by which you transform the tough, starchy vegetable into sweet, soft deliciousness is important. While you can easily just pop them in the microwave when in a rush, cooking them at a low temperature for a longer period of time is the key to unlocking its sweetness.


 Boil: Leave the skin on and drain and dry immediately after softening (roughly 10-12 minutes should do the trick).

Bake: Bake at no higher than 350 degrees until softened thoroughly. Top with a dollop of sour cream, a dab of butter, toasted pecans or cranberries. If you want to make baked fries, which are a much healthier alternative to deep-fried french fries, cut evenly into thick strips (emphasis on the “thick” – they tend to burn easier than regular potatoes given the higher sugar content).

Microwave: A super quick and easy way to cook them can be popping them in the microwave. Simply pierce them several times with a fork and then cook for about 8-10 minutes until softened.

Mashed: Peel and cube. Boil for about 10 minutes. Drain and then mash them up to get all the chunks out. Then return them to a pot and cook over low heat while stirring. Add in whatever ingredients the recipe calls for (non-dairy subs to consider: vegetable broth, coconut milk and olive oil).


Pairing tips?

 The sweet flavor and soft texture (when cooked) of sweet potatoes goes well with many herbs and spices and is found in everything from salads and sides to desserts and baked goods. Try pairing with chestnuts, warming spices, maple syrup,



Do not refrigerate sweet potatoes as cold temperatures harden them and alter their flavor (in a bad way). Instead keep them in a cool, dry place where they should be find for at least a month. If you want to freeze them, be sure to cook them first.  Dipping them (or adding to mashed sweet potatoes) in a little bit of lemon juice and water will help prevent darkening. Put in a sealed bag and they should be good frozen for up to a year.

photo: Leaf and Ardor Tea Co.
photo: Leaf and Ardor Tea Co.

Thank you once again to our friends at Leaf & Ardor Tea Co. for their unique recipe for Sweet Potato Mini Bundts with Masala Glaze. These adorable bundts are perfectly pareve (non-dairy) and would be a super delicious and highly original addition to your Thanksgiving feast.  Find the recipe here on Thursday!

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