There are two kinds of sweet potato -- "dry" and "moist" -- which describes the texture of the variety. The moist varieties are often called yams, but the yam is actually a different species that is found in tropical countries.


Sweet potatoes look similar to regular potatoes, but they are not closely related.
Sweet potatoes look similar to regular potatoes, but they are not closely related.

About Sweet Potatoes

The sweet potato is a tender vining or semi-erect perennial vegetable that is grown as an annual. It has small white, pink, or red-purple flowers. The swollen, fleshy roots range in color from creamy-yellow to deep red-orange.

Common Names: Sweet potatoes, yams
Scientific Name:
Ipomoea batatas
Hardiness:
Very Tender (will not survive first frost)

In the next section, we'll show you how to grow sweet potatoes.

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Growing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are extremely sensitive to frost and need warm, moist weather. They have a long growing season (about 150 days); in areas with a shorter season, the plants tend to produce small potatoes. Plant sweet potatoes four weeks after the average date of last frost or when the soil is thoroughly warm.

Sweet potatoes are fairly easy to grow but they will not tolerate frost.
Sweet potatoes are fairly easy to grow
but they will not tolerate frost.

Sweet potatoes are planted from rooted sprouts, or slips, taken from a mature root. To grow your own slips, place sweet potatoes in a cold frame and cover with two inches of sand or light soil. (A cold frame is a sort of miniature greenhouse and can be purchased or made at home.) Keep the bed warm. Add more soil when shoots appear. The shoots will develop roots that can be planted in the garden. You can also buy slips from a reputable garden center or supplier.

A light, well-worked soil that is not overly rich produces the best roots. Plant slips 12 inches apart in mounded ridges. These vegetables do best with even moisture throughout the season until three weeks before harvesting.

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

Dig up the roots before the first frost. The roots are damaged by freezing and cold soils.

Types of Sweet Potatoes

  • Centennial, 95 days, has a short growing season and produces orange flesh.
  • Bush or Bunch Porto Rico, 125 days, has compact growth and produces red-orange flesh.
  • Georgia Jet, 90 days, is fast and sweet, with orange flesh.
  • O'Henry, 90 days, has white flesh.

In the next section, we'll show you how to select sweet potatoes.

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Selecting Sweet Potatoes

The sweet potatoes in supermarkets are either the moist, orange-fleshed type or the dry, yellow-fleshed variety that resemble baking potatoes in texture. The orange variety has a thicker, more colorful skin, with bright orange flesh. It is much sweeter and moister than other varieties.

Despite their hardy appearance, bruises or cuts will spoil a sweet potato.
Despite their hardy appearance, bruises or cuts will spoil a sweet potato

Look for potatoes that are small to medium in size, with smooth, unbruised skin. Avoid any with a white stringy "beard," a sure sign the potato is overmature and probably tough. Though sweet potatoes look hardy, they're actually quite fragile and spoil easily. Any cut or bruise on the surface quickly spreads, ruining the whole potato. Do not refrigerate them; it speeds up the deterioration.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Sweet Potatoes

To cook sweet potatoes, boil unpeeled. Leaving the peel intact prevents excessive loss of precious nutrients and "locks" in its natural sweetness. The dry, yellow variety can be used in just about any recipe that calls for white potatoes. The darker, sweeter varieties are typically served at Thanksgiving. Try them mashed, in a souffle, or in traditional Southern sweet-potato pie.

In the next section, we'll explain the many health benefits of sweet potatoes.

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Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

In some homes in the United States, sweet potatoes are only served at Thanksgiving, even though they are available year-round. Too bad. Sweet potatoes are one of the unsung heroes of a balanced diet. For a reasonable number of calories, you get a load of nutrients.

Sweet potatoes contain carotenoids that appear to help stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, making cells more responsive to insulin. This can ultimately help with your metabolism.

Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene.
Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene.

Health Benefits
This starchy vegetable has bulk to keep your tummy full for hours. Yet its nutritional profile makes the calories worth it, especially since they are fat-free. Its fiber alone is enough to make a sweet potato worth eating.

If a beta-carotene contest were held, sweet potatoes would tie carrots for first place. That may make them top-notch for fighting chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, as well as disease related to inflammation, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Sweet potatoes are also rich in potassium and vitamin C; a small potato provides almost half the daily allowance.

Nutritional Values for Sweet Potato
Serving Size: 1 potato (3 oz), baked

Calories

90

Fat

0 g

Saturated Fat

0 g

Cholesterol

0 mg

Carbohydrate

21 g

Protein

2 g

Dietary Fiber

3 g

Sodium

36 mg

Vitamin A

19,218 IU

Folic Acid

6 micrograms

Pantothenic Acid

1 mg

Vitamin B6

<1 mg

Vitamin C

20 mg

Vitamin E

1 mg

Calcium

38 mg

Manganese

1 mg

Carotenoids

11,552 mcg

Potassium

475 mg

Magnesium

27 mg


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