Sweet potatoes can be consumed in a variety of ways, commonly boiled, baked, steamed, or fried. They are most commonly orange, but can be other colors including: white, red, pink, violet, yellow, purple. Sweet potatoes should not be confused with yams, another starchy root vegetable, which are actually two completely different plants.
There are many varieties of sweet potatoes, but the two major types grown in the U.S. include:
- Firm Sweet Potatoes: golden skin and paler flesh (commonly yellow-ish sweet potatoes)
- Soft Sweet Potatoes: copper skin and orange flesh (orange sweet potatoes, sometime mistakenly called yams)
These two types of sweet potatoes cook differently. Firm sweet potatoes remain firm and slightly waxy after cooking, while soft sweet potatoes become creamy, fluffy, and moist.
Yam or Sweet Potato?
Sweet potatoes and yams are to completely different vegetables. They are both tuberous root vegetables, but are not related and do not actually have a lot in common. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier. Believe it or not, true yams are not very common in the United States. True yams can be tough to find. They aren’t carried in many local grocery stores. Best chances of finding them are international and/or specialty markets.
“So if true yams are uncommon in the U.S… Why does my grocery store carry “yams?”
The yams in the grocery store are more than likely sweet potatoes. As mentioned above, there are two major types of sweet potatoes in the U.S., firm and soft. The firm sweet potatoes were the first to be produced in the U.S (the yellow sweet potato). When soft sweet potatoes (orange sweet potatoes) began to be produced, there was a need to call them something different than the firm potato. Since soft (orange) sweet potatoes slightly resemble true yams, they decided to call them yams becoming the “yams” you see in the grocery store.
Common U.S. Grocery Store Labeling:
Yam: soft sweet potato with copper skin and deep orange flesh
Sweet potato: firm sweet potato with golden skin and lighter/paler flesh
So unless you are searching for yams at specialty or international markets, chances are you’ve never had a true yam!!
Nutrients in Sweet Potatoes:
The orange-flesh sweet potatoes (sometimes labeled yams) are very good sources of Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B5. Additionally, they are decent sources of potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin. Finally, sweet potatoes contain a number of plant compounds called antioxidants. The antioxidant activity in the potato increases with the color intensity of the flesh. It is highly in colored varieties such as deep orange, purple, and red sweet potatoes.
Overall, sweet potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin A, as well as many other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant. They are also a rich source of complex carbohydrates and fiber. Sweet potatoes contain smaller amounts of protein and very minimal amount of fat. They are very tasty and can be made numerous different ways.
To get you started, I’ve included five different recipes that I love!
Recipes that follow:
- Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries
- Baked Sweet Potato Chips
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- Kale and Sweet Potato Hash
- Loaded Sweet Potato Skins
Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries:
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground red pepper
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large sweet potatoes
Preparing the Sweet Potatoes:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
2. In a small bowl, combine cumin, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
3. Peel the potatoes, cut each in half lengthwise, and cut each half into 6 wedges.
4. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, oil, and spice mixture.
5. Toss until potatoes are evenly coated.
Baking the Sweet Potatoes
1. On a baking sheet, arrange potatoes in a single layer and place in the oven.
2. Bake until edges are crisp and potatoes are cooked through (~30 minutes)
3. Serve immediately
The recipe and picture can be found on: http://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/recipes/a1367/oven-baked-sweet-potato-fries-3483/
Baked Sweet Potato Chips:
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total time: 2 hours 10 minutes
2 large sweet potatoes (~150 g each)
2 tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. salt (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and position oven rack in the center of the oven.
2. Rinse and dry the sweet potatoes thoroughly and slice them as thin as possible; thinner cuts result in crispier chips (chips too think in some part won’t crisp up all the way)
3. Toss slices in olive oil to lightly coat and then sprinkle with salt.
4. Lay out potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet or pan.
5. Bake for about 2 hours, flipping chips at the 1-hour mark
6. Remove once crisp and golden brown. Some may still feel tender at 2-hour but remove from heat and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to allow further crisping
7. Serve immediately
This recipe and picture can be found at: http://minimalistbaker.com/baked-sweet-potato-chips/
Roasted Sweet Potatoes:
Yield: ~2 cups
½ teaspoon olive oil
2 medium sweet potatoes
pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F
2. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush the parchment paper with olive oil.
3. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes, then cut them into ½-inch cubes
4. Spread the cubed sweet potatoes out over the baking sheet and season them with a little bit of salt and pepper.
5. Roast the sweet potatoes in the over until they’re soft and lightly browned (~20-25 minutes)
6. Let the sweet potatoes cool slightly before eating
7. Cool leftovers before storing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
This recipe can be found at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/get-fit-breakfast?utm_term=.ynjYnk6Xv#.lpMrgKP3w
Picture is from: http://www.eatliverun.com/roasted-sweet-potatoes-with-agave-nectar-and-fresh-rosemary/
Kale and Sweet Potato Hash:
1 cup kale, ribs and stems removed, thinly sliced into ribbons
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper
½ cup roasted sweet potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes (recipe above)
2 large eggs
- Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, then add the kale ribbons, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of water. Cook until kale is wilted and bright green, the garlic is soft, and water is evaporated (~2 minutes)
- Add roasted sweet potatoes to the skillet and cooking, stirring often, just until the sweet potatoes are heated through (~1 minute). Once everything is hot, move sweet potato mixture onto a plate, covering them with foil to set aside while cooking the eggs.
- Wipe out the nonstick skillet with a paper towel, then heat it over medium-low heat. Crack the two eggs into the skillet, sprinkle a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, and cook until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny (~2-3 minutes).
- To serve, slide the eggs over the cooked kale and sweet potato mixture. Eat immediately.
This recipe and picture can be found at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/get-fit-breakfast?utm_term=.ynjYnk6Xv#.lpMrgKP3w
Loaded Sweet Potato Skins
Yield: 8 potatoes skins
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup milk (buttermilk, whole, or half and half best)
¼ teaspoon salt
ground pepper, to taste
1 cup shredded cheese (recipe uses half sharp cheddar and half mozzarella)
4 strips a bacon, cooked until crispy, crumbled
Sour cream and chives for serving
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
3. Pierce each sweet potato a few times and bake for 40-50 minutes or until soft. 4. Allow the potatoes to cool slightly. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise.
5. Reduce oven temperature to 375F degrees.
6. Scoop out sweet potato flesh, leaving a thin layer of sweet potato inside, and add flesh to a medium bowl.
7. Place skins back on the baking sheet face up, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes.
8. Mash the sweet potato flesh with milk, salt, and pepper until smooth and creamy.
9 After 10 minutes, remove the skins from the oven. Fill each with an equal amount of mashed sweet potato and top each with cheese. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted.
10. Remove from the oven and top with bacon. Serve with sour cream and chopped chives, if desired. Skins are best enjoyed immediately.
11. Cover leftovers tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Recipe and picture can be found at: http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2014/09/15/loaded-sweet-potato-skins/
Thompson, Janice, and Melinda Manore. The Science of Nutrition. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2008. 473-479. Print.
Adrien Paczosa is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian practicing in Austin, Texas and the surrounding counties.
She is the owner and founder of I Live Well Nutrition her Dietitian practice which started in 2007 and serves clients in the Austin, Texas area in two locations. Fearless Practitioners, the division of her business that offers training to dietitians and wellness professionals.