A Brief History About Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family, not the potato family. Sweet potatoes started in Central American or northern South America, whereas our common potatoes originated from Peru. Sweet potatoes were a staple food in the West Indies when Christopher Columbus landed in the New World. The sweet potatoes that Columbus brought back to Spain were not all that sweet tasting, in fact they tasted more like carrots. In the 1500’s, Spanish explorers who visited the West Indies discovered a sweeter variety, which the natives called batatas. Batatas soon replaced the original sweet potatoes throughout southern Europe.
Today, millions of people in the Pacific, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Africa consume a large amount of sweet potato. On the other hand, the typical US adult eats only three or four pounds of sweet potatoes a year. Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows usually makes a guest appearance on Thanksgiving or Christmas and sweet potato fries are now more common to see on restaurant menus. The root vegetable plays only a minor role in our diets.
We should all eat more sweet potatoes. Despite their name and taste, they have a much lower glycemic index than white potatoes. Sweet potatoes also contain a higher antioxidant level than common potatoes. One baked sweet potato has almost double the amount of antioxidants compared to a baked Russet potato. Sweet potatoes also cook in half the time.
How to Shop for Sweet Potatoes
In most supermarkets you will come across two types of sweet potatoes, one with yellow flesh and another with darker, softer flesh/ marketed as a yam. Yams are just another variety of sweet potatoes. The deeper the color the flesh is, the higher antioxidant level the sweet potato contains. You can’t see inside the sweet potato at the grocery store, of course and if the produce manager doesn’t know the inside color, buy the variety with the darkest skin.
Beyond the Supermarket
It’s recommended to go to your local farmers’ market to buy your produce. When shopping for sweet potatoes at the farmers’ market, look for Strokes Purple, Carolina Ruby or Beauregard.
- Strokes Purple: have deep purple, almost black flesh with brown skin and are high in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer
- Beauregards: are one of the most popular varieties of sweet potatoes. They have dark red-orange skins and bright orange flesh. They also are high in beta-carotene. Beta carotene is a precursor of vitamin A. We need vitamin A for healthy skin and mucus membranes, our immune system, and good eye health and vision.
- Carolina Ruby: have red-to-purple skin and have orange flesh. They contain higher antioxidants than Beauregard potatoes.
The Best Way to Store Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be stored up to 1 week at room temperature. They can last longer if stored in an unsealed bag in a dark, cool place with good air circulation. Refrigerating raw sweet potatoes can create an off flavor. Not my recommendation.
Best Way to Cook Sweet Potatoes
Steaming, baking, or roasting sweet potatoes can double their antioxidant level, but boiling can reduce this level. The skin is more nutritious than the flesh, so don’t peel off and eat the whole root.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes Yield: 4 servings
What You Will Need:
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 2 teaspoons avocado oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
- Rinse and scrub each sweet potato. Do not peel. Paper towel dry.
- Cut sweet potato in half lengthwise and then cut each half into 4 long strips. Chop each of the strips into small cubes. About ½ inch thick.
- On a large baking sheet with either parchment paper or foil, spread the sweet potato cubes around. Drizzle the avocado oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Toss around to coat each cube.
- Bake 25-30 minutes until crispy. Flip the cubes around during mid-cycle (15 minutes) to make sure that both sides get crispy.
- Serve warm and enjoy
Recap of Sweet Potatoes
- Sweet potatoes are a different specie from the common potatoes. They contain higher antioxidant value and have a lower glycemic index. The most nutritious sweet potato varieties have red, dark orange, purple flesh.
- Instead of refrigerating raw sweet potatoes, store them in a cool, dark location with good air flow. Eating more sweet potatoes and fewer conventional white potatoes are a healthier choice.
Please share below some of your favorite recipes for sweet potatoes.