WICHE: Sweet potatoes not just for Thanksgiving anymore

-A A +A

There are plenty of varities from which to choose.

By Jeneen Wiche

I am a huge sweet potato fan. My comfort food consists of roasted chicken, sweet potatoes and broccoli. You can’t beat it.

In the past two weeks I have had three different types of sweet potatoes:

  • My neighbors gave me some that were freshly dug  and so incredible in their musky aroma when I sliced into them that I could hardly believe it.
  • The purple-skinned and white-fleshed sweet potato I purchased from Patel’s grocery were the sweetest I had ever tasted (and the white-fleshed are supposed to be less sweet?).
  • The run-of-the-mill, orange-skinned and orange-fleshed from Kroger proved the most bland (probably because of longer storage).

The Bitzers’ sweet potato fresh from their garden in Simpsonville was the superior sweet potato.

It used to be that most Americans only ate sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving, forgetting about these healthy and tasty roots the rest of the year. This is no longer true. Now we find them on menus, baked or as fries, as chips and available raw year round among the Idahoes and Yukon Golds at the grocery. I don’t even think people use the term yam anymore?

According to the USDA the word describing this nutrient-rich root vegetable is “sweetpotato.” Yes, it is officially one word because sweet potatoes aren’t really a variety of potatoes. Apparently the USDA doesn’t want to mislead the consumer, for once. I just can’t bring myself to use the one-word version.

Both the yam and sweet potato are roots (unlike the potato which is really a tuber), but they are often confused because we use the terms interchangeably. Sue Langdon, the director of the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission, told me that today both are completely acceptable ways in which to refer to the root crop.

Sweet potatoes are often referred to as “yams” when they have an orange flesh and a moister consistency.

In the old days, most sweet potato varieties were white- or yellow-fleshed, and when an orange-fleshed variety hit the market in the mid 20th century, the confusion began. Marketers wanted to distinguish the orange-fleshed variety from the other sweet potatoes so they attached the term “yam” to the orange variety of sweet potatoes that actually proved to be a bit sweeter and moister. Many of the early varieties of sweet potatoes were less sweet and had a firmer, drier consistency when cooked.

The true yam is an edible root that is native to West Africa and Asia and today is usually imported from the Caribbean. The true yam (called a “nyami” in parts of Africa), or Dioscorea, is a rough and scaly-fleshed root that is very starchy tasting. Most of us have likely never eaten a true yam.

Sweet potatoes have been grown in the New World for centuries, some say since prehistoric times. The sweet potato, or Ipomoea batatas, is in the morning glory family and is native to South America (like most potatoes). In 19th century America sweet potatoes enjoyed being the No. 2 vegetable crop grown, just behind the “Irish” potato. It was a staple crop during Colonialism and into the years of the Civil War, only losing its popularity as it was replaced by other starchy convenience foods.

Sweet potatoes are fat-free, cholesterol-free; they are a healthy source of complex carbohydrates, which makes them a better carbohydrate choice for diabetics because they are metabolized more slowly. The sweet potato is also loaded with antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene.

At about 130 calories for a medium-sized sweet potato, you’ll also get a dose of potassium, iron, vitamin B and some fiber, which makes a good choice for any meal.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.