Sweet Potatoes 101

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Sweet potatoes are not yams, and yams are not sweet potatoes, no matter how many marshmallows top them during the Thanksgiving feast. Sweet potatoes are root vegetables in the morning glory family, but yams are tubers of a tropical vine. Sweet potatoes originated in Ecuador and Peru, and yams are native to Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, as well as South America.

In many recipes, you can use sweet potatoes and yams interchangeably, but sweet potatoes take the lead on nutrition. The natural sugars shouldn’t keep you away from this superfood, which is packed with essential vitamins and minerals.

Identification

Look closely in your store’s potato bin to determine the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, as your grocer sometimes labels them the same. Sweet potatoes are plump, often fat, in the middle with tapered ends and yellow, purple, red, or copper skin. Yams are long and skinny, with off-white, tan, or brown skin that is slightly scaly.

The USDA allowed for yellow sweet potatoes to be labeled as yams to help consumers tell the difference between the firm and soft sweet potato varieties. Some grocery stores stock a variety of sweet potatoes but label one of them as yams, because the yellow-skinned sweet potatoes have white flesh and are more firm; the copper-skinned sweet potatoes have orange flesh and are softer. Also note that canned yams are actually sweet potatoes unless purchased in an ethnic grocery.

Taste

As the name would imply, sweet potatoes have a higher amount of sugar and moister flesh than other potatoes or yams. But in many recipes, sweet potatoes and yams are interchangeable, depending on the dish and how much sweetness you prefer—the more delicate concentration in sweet potatoes, or the subtle hint in yams.

Availability

Sweet potatoes are readily available during the cool winter months. Some regions offer them all year long. But make sure you’re getting an actual sweet potato and not a yam to achieve the right flavor, texture, and nutritional benefits. Specialty stores and farmers’ markets will be more precise about this.

Season

The perfect winter comfort food, sweet potatoes are at their peak between October and February in the United States, and August through January in Europe.

Selection

Choose sweet potatoes that are firm from end-to-end and bright in color, whether it be copper, red, purple, or white. The oval shape of sweet potatoes is the same, regardless of color.

Avoid tubers that have cracks, nicks, discoloration, or soft spots.

Organic Benefits

Organic vegetables are noted for having a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals because the soil is free of leaching pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. Pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides may cause hormonal imbalance and complications with the nervous system. These chemicals may also increase erosion, contaminate ground water, and contribute to the devastation of honey bee populations, which are important pollinators in our ecosystem.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. Sweet potatoes are on the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen” list, which means you can enjoy them without worry about pesticide residue. You may still choose to peel non-organic varieties to remove any wax.

The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.

Storage

Remove sweet potatoes from the plastic shopping bag and store them in a dark, cool place. They’ll stay fresh for up to one month. Do not refrigerate them.

Preparation

Prepare sweet potatoes the same as you do potatoes. Wash under warm running water, scrubbing away residual dirt with a vegetable brush. Peel, and remove any dark “eyes” in the flesh. Then you can cube, slice, or shred for your recipe, which may include baking, boiling, frying, sautéing, or grilling.

Nutrition Summary

Vitamin A

A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs. 


Vitamin C

Far more than protecting the body from the common cold, this immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk.

Manganese

The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism. 


B6 (Pyridoxine)

Amino acids and lipids are the main nutrients metabolized by vitamin B6, helping to promote proper energy levels throughout the body. It is also an important aspect of the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, protecting both the cardiovascular system and brain.

Potassium

Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Enjoying sweet potatoes a couple of times a week will boost your intake of antioxidants and beta-carotene, as well as vital nutrients such as manganese, which improves brain function and blood-sugar regulation, and pyridoxine (vitamin B6), which stabilizes energy. Sweet potatoes also give you more than double your daily requirement of vitamin A, which improves your vision and amps up your immune system.

Little Known Facts
  1. Sweet potatoes aren’t potatoes at all. They’re root vegetables from the morning glory family.
  2. Agriculture pioneer George Washington Carver expanded the use of the sweet potato. In addition to being a wonderful food, it can be used as flour, textile dye, and glue.
  3. Sweet potatoes are most familiar to us as a vibrant orange vegetable, but can also be purple, red, yellow, or white.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.