Here’s what you need to know.
As sweet potato fries begin to crop up more and more on menus, we can’t help but wonder if the starchy root vegetable is as good for us as it seems. From loaded baked sweet potatoes to sweet potato pie, they’ve become as ubiquitous as their more basic, paler counterparts. So, what’s their deal?
Turns out sweet potatoes actually belong to a different family than potatoes, according to The International Potato Center, since they’re roots that belong to the morning-glory family and not tubers. And they’re definitely not related to similarly-sweet yams, either.
Luckily, the sweet potato’s superfood status has been confirmed by many peer-reviewed studies. It’s been touted for healing stomach ulcers, lowering blood pressure, and aiding in weight loss. And best of all? Sweet potatoes taste decadent whether mashed, roasted or baked, requiring little to no seasoning. Nature’s treat, if you will. (Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)
Salivating yet? Here’s everything you need to know about sweet potatoes before you stock up this fall season.
Top varieties you’ll see at the supermarket:
Jewell: As its name suggests, this bright-hued root is a favorite for mashing and roasting.
Oriental: With your standard ivory flesh on the inside, this variety with a deep purple exterior is best for cubing, frying, and jazzing up Asian cuisine. (It also resembles the potato emoji!).
Garnet: With the texture and appeal of a d’Anjou pear, this variety adds color to any dish.
Covington: Great for mashing and baking, its peach-flavored exterior matches its sweet flesh.
O’Henry: Look familiar? With pale skin and a creamy interior, it looks just like a potato with a unique sweetness.
As a complete aficionado, Jenné Claiborne, author of the forthcoming Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul and co-founder of vegan meal-planningservice Buddhalicious, buys sweet potato every month of the year. Risky? Not so. “They’re available all year round because once they are harvested they can be stored and kept fresh for 12 months,” she says. But if you want to err on the side of seasonal caution, she notes you’ll want to stock up when they’re harvested in October, November, and December.
Sweet potatoes are generally unassuming from the outside, so you’ll only be able to marvel at their deep gemstone-hued interiors once you check out. But Claiborne shares some hints: “Look for sweet potatoes that are heavy for their size, meaning it shouldn’t feel like they’re hollow on the inside or made out of foam,” she says. They should be smooth, have no bruises or soft spots, and feel firm. Avoid any bruises, defects, or sprouts on the skin. Opt for ones with a relatively symmetrical shape, which can ease cooking.
Storing your sweet potatoes in the refrigerator will harden them at the center and produce a bitter taste. Opt for a dry, cool, and well-ventilated container, which can prolong their lifespan up to two weeks.
Wash your sweet potatoes well and then slice and dice them depending on what your recipe calls for. Many recipes will call for you to peel your potato but you can leave the skin on if you want—it’s edible and has lots of extra nutrients (likefiber).
Sweet potatoes dazzle with any dish whether broiled, baked, fried or even microwaved. To evenly cook, pierce it with a fork and place in the oven for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. For sautéed bite-sized slivers, slice or dice in oil for 10 minutes. For a quick fix, place in the microwave for around six minutes, rotating it halfway.
While sweet potatoes do burst with taste on their own, Claiborne opts for the following sweet and savory combinations: tahini and lemon; lime juice, cayenne and salt; cinnamon and nutmeg; coconut and curry powder or sauce; and nutritional yeast and coconut oil.
If hummus is your oxygen, Claiborne’s sweet potato rendition will give you life. Here’s what to do:
- Wrap the sweet potato in a damp paper towel before cooking.
- Cook the sweet potato in the microwave until tender (about seven minutes).
- Blend the flesh in a food processor with chickpeas, tahini, lemon, salt, garlic, and cumin.
- Add olive oil or water to thin it out if necessary.
Dip your favorite cut-up veggies to quickly meet your five-to-10-a-day quota.
According to the USDA, a medium sweet potato baked in skin contains 103 calories, 24 grams of carbohydrates, four grams of fiber, two grams of protein, and zero grams of fat. Its vitamin A content—great for eyesight and skin — is sky-high, clocking in at 438 percent of your recommended daily intake. You’ll also hit 37 percent of your daily dose of immunity-boosting vitamin C—keeping you healthy all throughout cold season.
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