Whether you are looking for a side dish to add to your meal, or if you’re looking for a main ingredient to make a soup, you can’t go wrong with a sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are in the nightshade family (related to morning glories and other flowering vines) and are native to North America. Known as the “vegetable indispensable,” sweet potatoes were a main source of nutrition for early homesteaders and revolutionary soldiers. Since they are affordable and store very well, cooking with sweet potatoes is easy, and good for the whole family in modern times too.
Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrition. Eating deep orange vegetables provides particular health benefits because they are good sources of beta carotene (which converts to vitamin A in the body). Sweet potatoes also are:
- Low in sodium
- A great source of fiber and potassium
- High in vitamin C
- Rich in Alpha carotene (a type of vitamin A)
- Fat free and cholesterol free
- Rich in magnesium
- A great source of long-lasting energy
- Low calorie (with about 100 calories in a medium sweet potato)
Choosing Sweet Potatoes
Sometimes referred to as “yams,” sweet potatoes are available in a number of varieties (and yams are a different vegetable, by the way; read more here). The flavor, texture, and color varies between different varieties, so be sure to try different types to find your favorites. Find locally-grown sweet potatoes throughout the fall and winter (sometimes in early spring as well) at farmers’ markets, farm stands, locally-owned grocery stores, and co-ops. (Home gardeners take note: if you pick up some organic sweet potatoes, you can use those to start new plants for the garden in early spring!) When choosing sweet potatoes, look for vegetables with smooth skin and no brown or damaged spots. Also think about preparation when selecting them; raw sweet potatoes are rather hard, so look for a size and shape that will be easiest to cut and prepare.
Storing and Preparation
Handle sweet potatoes carefully to prevent bruising. Wash them thoroughly before using, and cut off any brown spots. Store sweet potatoes in a dry, cool, and dark place. Storing them in a bin kept at 55-60 degrees is best. Never refrigerate, because temperatures below 55 degrees will chill this tropical vegetable, giving it a hard core and an undesirable taste when cooked. You can keep raw sweet potatoes stored for 3-5 weeks or more in a cool, dark place. Store cooked sweet potatoes in an airtight container in the freezer, ready to serve as an easy side dish, or to add to another recipe.
Cooking with Sweet Potatoes
Cooking with sweet potatoes is easy and affordable. Sweet potatoes are easy to bake, using the same technique as for conventional potatoes. (They do have a thinner skin, though, so many people wrap sweet potatoes in a piece of aluminum foil prior to baking for an extra layer of protection.) Try mashing one or two sweet potatoes in with a pan of white potatoes for an extra sweet and pretty dish. Another technique is to chop them into 1 inch chunks to roast on their own (as pictured at left) or with other root vegetables for an easy side dish. They are also excellent added to soups and stews. (For a delicious winter comfort food, try this African Peanut Sweet Potato Stew, a Real Maine staff favorite!) Find more healthy recipes on the Maine Senior FarmShare Program webpage.