November is a month known for many things: the usual onset of cold weather, raking leaves, and the start of the holiday season. November is also Sweet Potato Awareness month.
Sweet potatoes are herbaceous perennial vines in the convolvulaceae family often known as the “morning glory family”. They belong to a different family than yams and potatoes and are not tubers but enlarged roots. The common U.S. potato belongs to the solanaceae family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplant, and tobacco
Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams (dioscorea alata), especially this time of year. A few distinctions: yams are not grown in the United States so they are rarely found in stores. Yams likely originated in West Africa and sweet potatoes in Central America. While sweet potatoes have smooth, delicate skin, yams tend to have rough, thick skin.
Tips for Selection, Storage, and Preparation
Nutrition and health: Sweet potatoes are fat-free, low in sodium, cholesterol free, a good source of dietary fiber and potassium, and high in vitamins A and C. Taste the sweet goodness that sweet potatoes naturally have, and keep the additions like butter to a minimum. A medium sweet potato (about 2 inches in diameter and 5 inches long) is around 100 calories when baked in the skin.
Selection and storage tips: Choose firm, small- to medium-sized potatoes with smooth skin. Avoid cracks, soft spots and blemishes. Choose sweet potatoes with a bright, uniform color. Store them in a cool, dark, dry place for use within two to four weeks or at room temperature for up to a week. Avoid storing in the refrigerator, which will result in a hard center and unpleasant taste.
Cleaning and preparing: Before cooking, wash sweet potatoes with cool, running water to remove any dirt from the skin and scrub with a vegetable brush if needed. It is not necessary to peel sweet potatoes before cooking them; leaving the skins on gives you a different texture and more fiber in meals, side dishes, and snacks.
Cooking with sweet potatoes: They can be baked, boiled, fried, broiled, and microwaved. They can also be peeled, cut into chunks and sautéed. When cooking whole sweet potatoes pierce their skin several times with a fork and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for 40-50 minutes, or until fork tender. Sauté sliced or diced sweet potatoes in oil for about 10 minutes. Grill or broil 1-inch thick slices for 10 minutes or cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and grill 20 to 25 minutes. When microwaving, pierce several times with a fork and place on a microwave-safe dish. Microwave whole sweet potatoes for 5 to 8 minutes, rotating halfway through.
Great additions to meals and side dishes: Sweet potatoes can be prepared with sweet or savory flavors and go well with meats, fruits, and other vegetables. Here are some examples of interesting ways to incorporate sweet potatoes: Toss sliced sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower in olive oil and salt and bake until tender; sauté peppers, onions and sweet potato cubes for taco filling; add roasted sweet potato wedges to your favorite grilled meat; or add roasted sweet potato cubes to a soup recipe.
Source: University of Michigan Extension and University of Nebraska Extension