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Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes 101 – The Basics

Sweet potatoes are delicious root vegetables that we have incorporated into everything from appetizers to desserts and snacks. They are loaded with nutritional benefits and are excellent to include in a healthful diet. In the video below, I cover a wide range of information about sweet potatoes from how to choose them, store them, preserve them, to cooking with them, and more. My notes are below the video link so you use them for your personal endeavors. Enjoy!

I hope this helps!
Judi

Here’s how to get the most benefit from your sweet potatoes!

Sweet Potatoes 101 – The Basics

About Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are root vegetables that belong to the morning glory family. They are not the same thing as yams. In fact, yams are in a whole different plant family than sweet potatoes and are not commonly found in the United States (except perhaps in international markets).

There are many varieties of sweet potatoes, with skin color being white, yellow, purple, red or brown. Flesh color can be white, yellow, orange, or orange-red. They are typically grown in warmer climates and harvested in the fall.

Nutrition Tidbits
Sweet potatoes are very high in beta-carotene and Vitamin C. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are one of our best food sources of beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A. There are plenty of other vitamins and minerals in sweet potatoes, too, but those two are especially noteworthy. One cup of boiled, mashed sweet potato has about 250 calories.

A little fat will do ya: To get the most benefit from the beta-carotene content of sweet potatoes, it is helpful to include some fat with the meal, since sweet potatoes contain no fat. Beta-carotene is a fat-soluble substance, so fat is needed for its best absorption. Note, that just a small amount of fat-containing food will do. There is NO need to slather your sweet potato with butter. A mere 3 to 5 grams of fat in a meal can be enough to aid in the absorption of the beta-carotene in sweet potatoes. For instance, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil has 14 grams of fat. Doing the math, a mere teaspoon of oil (providing 3-1/2 grams of total fat) per meal is enough fat to do the job. Or, instead of olive oil, only 3-1/2 walnut HALVES (that’s less than two whole walnuts) could also do the trick, providing about 4-1/2 grams of total fat. So, a little fat will go a long way in helping us to absorb the beta-carotene in sweet potatoes!

Boil or steam: Boiling with the skin on appears to retain most of the antioxidants in sweet potatoes, when compared to roasting and steaming. The skin has nearly ten times the antioxidants as the flesh, which is drastically reduced when the potatoes are baked. The glycemic index of boiled sweet potatoes is much more favorable than that of baked ones. Steaming seems to also be a good way to preserve the nutrients in sweet potatoes, following second to boiling with the peel on.

Fiber and the Glycemic index: Some people are concerned about the sugar content of sweet potatoes. Yes, they do contain some sugar. However they are very high in fiber, which gives them a low glycemic index and are very effective in stabilizing blood sugar. When tested with a group of diabetics, those who consumed an extract of white sweet potatoes every day for three months had lower blood sugar than those given placebos. It is important to note that a boiled sweet potato has a glycemic index of 46 whereas that of a baked sweet potato is 86.5. So how you cook them makes a difference.

Boost your health: When examining the diets of people who live in the Blue Zones, considered to be the world’s healthiest people, researchers found that most of their carbohydrates come from eating sweet potatoes, rice, and legumes. Fat is kept to a minimum, using mostly vegetable fats like olive oil. Among the Blue Zone populations, the Okinawans (of Okinawa, Japan) who ate their traditional diet focused on eating whole plant foods including a lot of sweet potatoes. According to Dr. Michael Greger at https://nutritionfacts.org/2018/01/11/what-do-the-longest-living-people-eat/, “If you look at the traditional diets of more than 2,000 Okinawans, it breaks down as follows: Only 1% of their diet was fish, less than 1% of their diet was other meats, and less than 1% was dairy and eggs, so it was more than 96% plant-based and more than 90% whole food plant-based as they ate few processed foods. And their diet was not just whole food plant-based; most of their diet was made up of vegetables, one vegetable in particular: sweet potatoes. The Okinawan diet was centered on purple and orange sweet potatoes.” Okinawans had 8 to 12 times fewer heart disease deaths than the United States, 2 to 3 times fewer colon cancer deaths, 7 times fewer prostate cancer deaths, and 5½ times lower risk of dying from breast cancer. It is important to state that the traditional diet of Okinawans is a thing of the past. The modern food industry has infiltrated the area and influenced people to change their ways, resulting in a far less healthy population than it once was.

So, if you’re not already eating sweet potatoes, it’s time to add them to your food list!

How to Select Sweet Potatoes
Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and without cracks, bruises or soft spots. Small to medium size sweet potatoes will tend to be sweet and creamy, whereas larger ones tend to be more starchy.

How to Store Sweet Potatoes
Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark, well ventilated place away from a heat source. Ideally they should be stored below 60F (but above 40F, refrigerator temperature), which would be equivalent to a root cellar. Since most of us don’t have root cellars, a cool, well ventilated place will usually suffice. Refrigeration is not recommended as it will alter the flavor.

How to Preserve Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be dehydrated, frozen or canned.

To Dehydrate Sweet Potatoes
Wash them and leave the peel on. Roast them (dry without added oil or spices on them) on a rimmed baking sheet at 375F until they are fork-tender, about 1 hour or more, depending on the size. Remove from oven and allow them to cool so they can be handled. Remove the peel and slice them about ¼- to 3/8-inches thick. Place them in a single layer on your dehydrator rack, making sure the slices do not touch each other. Follow your dehydrator manufacturer’s instructions for time and temperature for drying your sweet potatoes. When finished, store them in air-tight containers.

See also my video on dehydrating sweet potatoes at https://youtu.be/SmalFyoROgU

Sweet potatoes can be frozen in a number of ways depending on how they will be used later. Here are directions for various ways to freeze sweet potatoes:

To Freeze Boiled Sliced or Diced Sweet Potatoes
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Scrub the sweet potatoes, and peel them if the way you plan to use them calls for peeling them. Otherwise, you could leave the peel on them. Slice or dice them to the preferred size. Make sure they’re all around the same size, so they cook evenly. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, or until they just begin to get tender but are still quite firm. Remove the sweet potatoes and let them stand at room temperature until cooled. Put the sweet potatoes in freezer storage bags. Remove as much of the air from the bags as possible. Freeze for up to 12 months.

To Freeze Baked Sweet Potatoes
Preheat the oven to 375F. Scrub the sweet potatoes and place them on a baking sheet on the rack in the middle of the preheated oven. Bake the sweet potatoes for about 1 hour (or more depending on their size), or until fork-tender. Let the potatoes cool. Wrap the cooled sweet potatoes in foil and transfer them to freezer bags to freeze whole. Or, freeze the baked potatoes individually on a baking sheet. Once frozen, place them in freezer bags. Freeze the sweet potatoes for up to 12 months. To reheat whole baked sweet potatoes, remove the foil (if foil was used) and rewrap them in a new sheet of foil and bake in a 350 F oven for about 25 to 35 minutes.

To Freeze Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Bake the sweet potatoes as directed above. Slip the skins off the cooled potatoes, and put the flesh in a large bowl or food processor. Beat or process the sweet potatoes until smooth. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice for each pint (2 cups) of sweet potatoes, if desired. Lemon juice helps to prevent browning, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Pack the sweet potato mixture into bags and flatten the bag to remove as much air as possible. The mashed sweet potatoes can be added to casseroles, breads, puddings, cakes or cookies, and pies.

Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned
Sweet potatoes can be found fresh, frozen (in some grocery stores), and canned. Fresh sweet potatoes offer the most versatility, but frozen ones (if you can find them) are a great convenience. Frozen sweet potatoes can be used for just about any cooking application and save time in the kitchen. Canned sweet potatoes are a nice third option, but are usually packed with added sugars and possibly other ingredients. They may be convenient and time-saving, depending upon your intended use of them. They are a handy kitchen staple to have in the cupboard in case of emergencies or when time is running short.

How to Prepare Sweet Potatoes
Wash the sweet potatoes and peel, if desired. The peel is edible, so it is not mandatory to peel them. Sweet potatoes will darken after being cut or peeled, so use them immediately after cutting into them. If needed, they can be placed in a bowl of water to prevent oxidation, until you are ready to cook with them.
To minimize nutrient loss, it is helpful to cook them with the peel on. Then remove the peel, if desired, after they are cooked. The peel is edible and nutritious. However, they may be coated with wax or even dyed if purchased commercially. In this case it may be wise to remove the peel before eating your sweet potatoes. Eating the peel of those grown in your own garden should be no problem.

Cooking/Serving Methods
Sweet potatoes can be baked, steamed, boiled, microwaved, fried, juiced, made into soups, added to casseroles, baked into breads, muffins, cakes, cookies and pies, added to pancakes, and even eaten raw.

Steaming sweet potatoes seems to be a valuable way to enjoy them, while preserving nutrients, keeping the glycemic index low, and cooking them quickly. Steam ½-inch sweet potato slices for 7 minutes then top with a small amount of fat (or serve with a fat-containing food) to help utilize the beta-carotene in them.

One serving suggestion provided by https://whfoods.com sounds delicious… Purée cooked sweet potatoes with bananas, maple syrup and cinnamon. Top with chopped walnuts.

Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Sweet Potatoes
Warm herbs and spices: Chili pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, rosemary, allspice, cinnamon, clove
Sweet and savory: cilantro, coconut, thyme, salt, maple sugar or syrup, honey, brown sugar

Foods That Go Well With Sweet Potatoes
Lime, onions, carrot, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, oranges, pineapple, apples, potato, butter, cream, rum, and rich meats such as pork, duck, ham, and poultry

Recipe Links
Butter Roasted Sweet Potatoes https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-butter-roasted-sweet-potatoes-248389

Sweet Potato Pancakes https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-sweet-potato-pancakes-224305

7-Minute “Quick Steamed” Sweet Potatoes http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=325

Healthy Mashed Sweet Potatoes http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=94

Sweet Potatoes with Ginger and Cinnamon http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=205

Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Bacon https://producemadesimple.ca/maple-mashed-sweet-potatoes-bacon/

Sweet Potato Muffins https://producemadesimple.ca/sweet-potato-muffins/

Spicy-Sweet Roasted Sweet Potatoes https://spicysouthernkitchen.com/spicy-sweet-roasted-sweet-potatoes/

Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes https://tasty.co/recipe/rosemary-roasted-sweet-potatoes

50+ Delicious New Ways to Prepare Sweet Potatoes https://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/g877/sweet-potato-recipes-1009/

Glazed Sweet Potatoes https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/glazed-sweet-potatoes/

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/roasted-sweet-potatoes-with-honey-butter-recipe-1946538

57 Killer Sweet Potato Recipes to Make This Fall https://www.delish.com/holiday-recipes/thanksgiving/g622/sweet-potato-recipes/

Sweet Potatoes with Apple Butter (Note this 5-star recipe has over 5,000 reviews!) https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/sweet-potatoes-apple-butter

20 Diners That All Start with Sweet Potatoes https://www.thekitchn.com/15-ways-to-turn-sweet-potatoes-into-dinner-236137

6 Amazing Ways to Stuff a Sweet Potato https://www.onelovelylife.com/6-amazing-ways-to-stuff-a-baked-sweet-potato/

Honey Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes Skillet https://www.lecremedelacrumb.com/honey-roasted-chicken-sweet-potatoes-skillet/

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

Resources
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=64

http://www.sweetpotatoes.com/About/SweetPotatoFacts.aspx

https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/diet/sweet-potato-nutrition-benefits-recipes-more/

https://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-yams-and-sweet-potatoes-word-of-mouth-211176

https://nutritiouslife.com/eat-empowered/truth-about-sweet-potatoes/

https://draxe.com/sweet-potato-nutrition-facts-benefits/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14747225

https://www.runtastic.com/blog/en/7-eating-habits-of-the-worlds-healthiest-populations/

https://nutritionfacts.org/2018/01/11/what-do-the-longest-living-people-eat/

https://curiouschef.com/wordpress/crisp/blog/flavors-pair-well-sweet-potato/

https://www.almanac.com/plant/sweet-potatoes#

https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/shopping-storing/food/fresh-pick-sweet-potatoes

https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-freeze-sweet-potatoes-three-ways-3061558

https://nutritionfacts.org/2015/11/24/is-it-better-to-bake-boil-or-steam-sweet-potatoes/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12002680