The white potato’s healthier, often orange second cousin, the sweet potato has really gotten popular in the last few years, and for good reason. It’s a versatile tuber, great for pies, fries, and just about anything in between. It’s also easy to grow and store, inexpensive, and easy to find in most grocery stores.
Sweet potatoes originated in Central or South America, and are generally grown in tropical to temperate regions with adequate rainfall. Sweet potatoes don’t much like cooler temperatures, and excess moisture or drought can cause crop failure. They are fairly common in the southern U.S. and are sometimes called “yams,” though they’re quite different from a real yam.
Generally resistant to common garden pests, sweet potatoes have quickly growing vines with large leaves that tend to shade out weeds, always a plus. Once harvested, sweet potatoes are often cured, which improves their shelf life. Varieties with darker flesh—red, pink, or orange—tend to be sweeter and more moist than varieties with lighter (yellow or white) flesh. Some varieties even have a rich purple flesh!
These root vegetables are a fantastic source of beta carotene (vitamin A), dietary fiber, and vitamin C (particularly the orange-fleshed varieties). They’re also a very good source of copper, manganese, and potassium.
When picking sweet potatoes, choose ones that are firm and medium-sized, with smooth, unbruised skins and ends that are tapered. Don’t select sweet potatoes that are displayed in the refrigerated section, and don’t store them in the refrigerator at home either, as cooler temperatures can alter their taste. Store sweet potatoes at room temperature in a container that allows for good ventilation.
Simply put, sweet potatoes are some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables around, so definitely make them a part of your diet all year long, and not just in holiday casseroles or pies.