Sweet Potatoes, Member of the Morning Glory Family are Neither Yams or Potatoes.
Sweet Potato
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A Sweet Potato, is actually a completely different vegetable than the more familiar potato. The two are not even in the same botanical family and each vegetable has a different taste and its own nutritional profile.

“Solanum tuberosum” is the potato's scientific name, grouping it in the Solanaceae family along with Tomatoes, Eggplants, Peppers, and Tomatillos. In comparison, the Sweet Potato, (Ipomoea batatas) belongs to the Convolvulaceae plant family which also includes the “Morning Glory” flower. The leaves and shoots of the plant are also edible but the root/storage organ is the most consumed part.

Sweet Potatoes, which have recently begun gaining popularity and shelf space in U.S. Produce sections, are not new to the Americas. In fact, they are native to the Americas, specifically Peru and Ecuador, where they have been cultivated as a staple for about 4,500 years. Christopher Columbus, even imported them to Europe on his 1492 voyage.

The Jewel Yam (really a Sweet Potato) is one of the most common Sweet Potatoes cultivated for American markets. Because it has orange flesh it was called a “Yam” to differentiate it from white-fleshed Sweet Potatoes when it was introduced to the U.S. market in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, the name stuck and created a lot of confusion. In reality, none of the 200 Yam species are grown in the U.S.  

Sweet Potatoes are frequently grouped into two categories depending upon their textures. Dry Sweet Potatoes are firm, dry and mealy when cooked. Moist Sweet Potatoes are soft and moist when cooked.

Availability

Sweet Potatoes are available year round.

Varieties

The other common variant of Sweet Potato is the copper-skinned Beauregard Sweet Potato. Between the Beauregard Sweet Potato and the Jewel Yam, the two account for roughly 90% of the Sweet Potatoes grown in the United States. Other Sweet Potatoes cultivars exist and can have various skin colors and interior colors. An O Henry Sweet Potato has a whitish skin. The Georgia Jet Sweet Potato is copper-brown. The Vardaman Sweet Potato and Centennial Sweet Potato both have golden skin. There are also Sweet Potatoes with dark red skin (Carolina Ruby Sweet Potato), red skin (Japanese Sweet Potatoes), burnt orange skin and orange skin (Hernandez Sweet Potatoes).

Purchasing

When purchasing Sweet Potatoes, look for Sweet Potatoes in the regular room temperature produce section. Pass by refrigerated Sweet Potatoes. The cold negatively impacts their flavor.

When selecting room temperature Sweet Potatoes, look for ones that don’t have cracks bruises or soft spots and that are firm.

Storage

Sweet Potatoes do best stored in a well-ventilated, cool but not refrigerated, dark place. They should be stored loose (in a bin or bowl) away from any heat sources like the oven. If they must be bagged, avoid plastic bags, and poke a few air holes in the bag for circulation. Stored properly they can last up to 2-4 weeks.

Sweet Potatoes will Oxidize. To keep them looking good, keep the skins on until ready to cook or use. Once cooked serve quickly. If working ahead store the cut or peeled Sweet Potatoes in Acidulated Water to prevent them turning brown from exposure to the oxygen in air.

Culinary Uses

Not surprisingly, each variety of Sweet Potato tastes differently, but they all have a sweet/starchy taste. The whole Sweet Potato, (skin and tuber), can be used, though since they grow in the ground they should be washed, scrubbed and dried before use. If you are especially susceptible to chemical residues, etc. purchase Organic Sweet Potatoes which are grown without pesticides.

You can also peel a Sweet Potato, much as you would Peel a Potato or Peel a Carrot, to avoid the skin or you can cook them whole and peel them just before eating them.

Sweet Potatoes taste terrific, and can be Boiled, Stir Fried, Steamed, PuréedBaked, Mashed, Stuffed, Deep Fried and Pan Fried. Basically, they are easy to work with and prepare and can be used in a multitude of dishes, including many that call for regular potatoes. Just keep in mind that the Sweet Potato will impart a little extra sweetness.

Boiling Sweet Potatoes has been shown to be a very healthy way to cook them, preserving the bio-availability of the beta-carotene, especially in children.  Boiling Sweet Potatoes also lowers the Glycemic Index (the amount of blood sugar in the blood stream) as compared to Roasting or Baking them.  The only drawback of boiling is that some of the water-soluble vitamins may leech off into the boiling water.

Stir-Frying, especially at lower temperatures like 200° F (93° C), is another good choice because fat (even a small amount like 3-5 grams) helps the body absorb the beta-carotene of the Sweet Potato.

The healthiest, but not necessarily the tastiest method of cooking Sweet Potatoes may be Steaming them.  Smart Kitchen’s Recipe for Steaming Sweet Potatoes is in our Recipe Section.

Portion Size

All 2-3 oz of Sweet Potato per person.

Substitutes

Russet Potatoes

Nutritional Value USDA
SWEET POTATO,RAW,UNPREP
Amount Per 100g
Calories 86
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
2%
Sodium 55mg
7%
Potassium 337mg
6%
Total Carbohydrate 20g
12%
Dietary Fiber 3g
Sugars 4g
Protein 1g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Sweet potatoes offer a host of nutrients and an impressive array of antioxidants. Like potatoes, Sweet Potatoes are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A (in the form of Carotenoid phytonutrients like Beta Carotene), Thiamine, Niacin, Riboflavin, Copper, Fiber, Vitamin B6, and Potassium. Sweet Potatoes are also a very good source of Manganese and a good source of Iron. A  1/2 cup of Sweet Potatoes contain about 103 calories, 1 gram of fat and 3 grams of dietary fiber. 

Sweet potatoes also contain many antioxidants know as root storage proteins that are just beginning to be studied. Sporamins, the root storage proteins in Sweet Potatoes have shown some promise fighting oxidative cell damage.

The interesting thing about Sweet Potatoes is that though they taste sweeter than regular potatoes, they don’t release as much sugar into the blood stream per unit of time as do regular potatoes. Because of their higher fiber content (almost twice as much as normal potatoes), Sweet Potatoes taste sweeter but release a smaller amount of sugar, each minute, into the blood through digestion. The thinking is that the higher fiber level lowers the amount of sugar released, per minute, through digestion.

Finally, because Sweet Potatoes are not “Potatoes” they do not belong to the Nightshade family and do not harbor nightshade alkaloids which can provoke allergic reactions and symptoms.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes