Sweet potatoes are a colorful and nutritious addition to any meal. Let’s look at some tips on how and why you should buy this colorful vegetable any time of the year.
Where are Sweet Potatoes Grown?
Sweet potatoes, which are not related to potatoes, enjoy warm temperatures. In most parts of the world, they are in season from August to November. So from August to November, they are freshest, cheapest, and have peak flavor.
It is believed that sweet potatoes were first cultivated in South America, in Peru. Yet, there is evidence that it might have originated elsewhere. Regardless of where they originated, these colorful vegetables have a very rich history. They were already being cultivated in America when Christopher Columbus arrived.
In the U.S. today, North Carolina produces around 60 percent of sweet potatoes. China, Malawi, and Nigeria are currently the top global producers of sweet potatoes.
Choosing Sweet Potatoes
When buying sweet potatoes look for ones that are even in color with a firm skin. There should be no bruising or sprouting when you buy sweet potatoes.
On average, sweet potatoes are $1 per pound in the United States. But, specialty varieties like Japanese sweet potatoes cost more.
When choosing sweet potatoes, have in mind what you are going to use them for. Larger ones tend to have a more stringy texture and take longer to cook because of their size. Small sweet potatoes have a more uniform texture but contain less meat. Because of their desirable flavor and texture, fingerling sweet potatoes are becoming popular. But in some areas, they still may be hard to find.
In the U.S. “yam” and “sweet potato” are often used interchangeably. But buyer beware, in other countries yams are different from sweet potatoes.
True yams are starchier and have thicker skin than most sweet potatoes. Most American stores do not carry actual yams but may sell sweet potatoes labeled as yams. If it looks like a sweet potato, it probably is a sweet potato.
Sweet Potato Varieties
Sweet potatoes are most often found in stores with the other produce. Most popular grocery stores only have one or two varieties of sweet potatoes. Beauregard being the most common.
Beauregard is sometimes called the world’s most popular sweet potato. It is commonly found in stores due to its high yield and long shelf life.
Jewel sweet potatoes are sometimes called Jewel yams in the states. But they are, in fact, sweet potatoes. Jewel sweet potatoes have a similar appearance to Beauregards but are sweeter.
Sweet Havanah sweet potatoes have a more classic sweet potato appearance. They have tan skin with a light interior with a somewhat sweet taste. They have a similar starchy texture to russet potatoes. Because of this, Sweet Havanahs are a great option for mashed sweet potatoes. They have a similar texture to classic mashed potatoes with a slightly sweet taste.
Last but not least, Japanese sweet potatoes have a purple outside with a light tan inside. They are regarded as one of the sweetest of the sweet potatoes. They are a bit harder to come by than some of the varieties on this list, but they can usually be found at Asian markets.
Common varieties like beauregard and jewel sweet potatoes can be found year-round. But, specialty varieties are easiest to find while they are in season.
Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Need more reasons to buy sweet potatoes? They are loaded with important vitamins and nutrients!
On average, according to the USDA one medium sweet potato contains:
- 112 calories
- 438 mg potassium
- 3.9 grams of fiber
- 5 g sugar
- 2 g protein
Sweet potatoes are also packed with beta carotene and vitamin A in particular. A single baked sweet potato provides the average adult with more than 100% of the Vitamin A they need for a day. Likewise, the size of the sweet potato also determines how much nutrients it provides.
Most of the nutrients for sweet potatoes are stored in their skin. So, as long as the sweet potatoes are thoroughly washed beforehand, it is very beneficial to eat the skin.
Regardless, sweet potatoes offer many different vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients.
In conclusion, sweet potatoes are a nutritious and versatile addition to your pantry. Sweet potatoes have an uncertain origin. But, today they are grown in different areas and enjoy warm climates with a long growing season. Although they are at peak season from August to November, they can be found in the produce section year round.
When choosing sweet potatoes, it is important to look for an even color and skin. Sprouting and bruising may be signs that the potatoes are already going bad and are not at peak flavor.
There are many varieties of sweet potatoes. Beauregard and jewel sweet potatoes are especially common. Likewise, in the U.S., if a sweet potato is labeled a yam it is likely a sweet potato. It is hard to find a true yam in the United States. Yams may be found in specialty markets but are much easier to find in other countries like Ghana.
Sweet potatoes offer a variety of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. However, most of the nutrients are stored in the skin.
With all the benefits and color they offer, make sure to add sweet potatoes to your diet for a nutritious meal or snack!