The sweet potato, a tuberous root vegetable belonging to the same family of plants as the morning glory, is a particularly popular food in the southern United States. Sweet potatoes, native to Central America, are considered a staple in many countries and have been cultivated in Southern states since the 16th century. Although often mistakenly called yams, the sweet potato and the yam are very different tubers. A true yam is a starchy edible tuber that is generally imported from the Caribbean. It differs greatly from the sweet potato in taste, texture, appearance and family.
Prime season for the sweet potato is from October to January but they are available sporadically throughout the year. The versatile sweet potato is ideal fare for the health-conscious food consumer. Nutritionally, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A and a good source of potassium and vitamin C, B6, riboflavin, copper, pantothetic acid and folic acid.
With the ever-growing interest in health and natural foods, the sweet potato is quickly finding its place in the family weekly diet the year around. The sweet potato blends with herbs, spices and flavorings producing delicious dishes of all types. From processed baby foods to the main dishes, casseroles, salads, breads and desserts, sweet potatoes add valuable, appetizing nutrients and color to any meal.
How to Choose Sweet Potatoes
In most areas of the country, sweet potatoes are available every month of the year. When selecting sweet potatoes, it is important that they are firm to the touch and no signs of decay. For even cooking, choose sweet potatoes that are uniform in shape. Sweet potatoes generally do not store well, except under ideal conditions, and bruised ones rapidly deteriorate. Unfortunately, when sweet potatoes begin to go bad, you cannot just cut away the bad part, since the damage will be reflected in the flavor of the entire potato.
For the most part, sweet potatoes can be used in any white potato recipe, particularly the pale variety.
How to Store Sweet Potatoes
Avoid storing sweet potatoes in the refrigerator, which will produce a hard center and unpleasant taste. Instead, store your sweet potatoes in a cool, dry, well ventilated container, like a basket, for up to two weeks. Stored in a dry, dark, cool place, sweet potatoes can last up to three to four weeks.