The sweet potato is another Native American food discovered by Columbus and his crew. This root vegetable called “batatas” by the natives was taken back to Spain around 1500. Other varieties, including red, purple, and white were then cultivated.

In Colonial times, American doctors recommended sweet potatoes for children to help prevent childhood nutritional diseases.

Sweet potatoes in their many varieties are a highly nutritious food, easy to prepare, heavenly tasting, and extremely versatile. Yet, they are undervalued, ignored, and under appreciated.

Sweet Potatoes: Once a Main Source of Nourishment

Sweet potatoes were the main source of nourishment for early homesteaders and for soldiers during the Revolutionary War. These tuberous roots are among the most nutritious foods in the vegetable kingdom. They are excellent sources of vital nutrients. This is why one colonial physician called them the “vegetable indispensable.

Some people enjoy the wonderful flavor and health benefits of sweet potatoes year round, but for many families sweet potatoes appear on the table at Thanksgiving and only then.

Sweet Potato History

Sweet potatoes were actually born in Mexico, Central, and South America, as well as the West Indies. Their botanical name, Ipomoca batata, was derived from the American Indians of Louisiana who were growing them in native gardens as early as 1540.

Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family, yet are often confused with the yam, which comes from the African word “nyami”, referring to the starchy root from a different genus of plants. Yams sold at supermarkets are actually sweet potatoes with a moist texture and orange flesh.

It was the Southerners, mainly from North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana, who adopted the name yams for the darker-skinned orange variety and made them an important part of their cuisine. “Yams” were so important in the South that during the American Revolution and the Civil War, they were said to have sustained the fighting soldiers.

Sweet Potatoes: A Nutritional Powerhouse

The sweet potato deserves to be on the highest perch because it is a nutritional powerhouse with 4 ounces of cooked pulp supplying 2 grams of protein, 3.4 grams of fiber, 24.6 mg of vitamin C, 28 mg of calcium, 22.6 mcg of folic acid, 20 mg of magnesium, 348 mg of potassium, and a whopping 21822 I.U. of vitamin A.

That’s mighty impressive for only a half cup serving. The skins, which are completely edible, add even more fiber.

Switch out your baked or mashed potatoes for one of these to take advantage of the immune helping beta-carotene. They are also lower in carbs and the high levels of Vitamin A assist eye health.

Sweet Potatoes for Your Skin

You may not think of skin as part of your immune system, but this crucial organ, covering an impressive 16 square feet, serves as a first-line fortress against bacteria, viruses and other undesirables. To stay strong, your skin needs vitamin A. Vitamin A plays a major role in the production of connective tissue, a key component of skin. One of the best ways to get vitamin A is to eat foods high in beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A.

One of the quickest, most delicious ways to get beta-carotene is to serve candied sweet potatoes (canned are fine). Each one-half cup serving delivers only 170 calories but 40-percent of the DV of vitamin A as beta-carotene. They are so good; you might want to save them for dessert! Think orange when looking for other foods rich in beta-carotene: carrots, squash, canned pumpkin and cantaloupe.

Sweet Potatoes for Runners

This tasty vegetable ranks high in energy supplying carbs and beta carotene, plus minerals like potassium and magnesium, which runners lose through sweating. A medium-size sweet potato has only about 100 calories, two to three times a week, eating one could do a runner good.

The deep orange color of sweet potatoes is a calling card for its stash of antioxidants called carotenoids – the major one being beta-carotene. Recently, Swedish researchers discovered that eating three or more servings a week of carotenoid-rich vegetables, such as green leafy vegetables or root vegetables, could reduce the risk of stomach cancer by between 35 and 57 percent.

Sweet Potato Varieties

Although sweet potatoes are harvested in August through October, they are available in supermarkets all year. Many stores feature them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are two varieties of sweet potatoes; the pale yellow with a dry flesh and the dark orange with a moist flesh. The dark orange variety is plumper in shape and somewhat sweeter than the yellow variety.

Sweet potatoes

Selecting Sweet Potatoes

Choose firm, dark, smooth sweet potatoes without wrinkles, bruises, sprouts, or decay. Even if cut away, a decayed spot may have already caused the whole potato to take on an unpleasant flavor.

Sweet potatoes contain an enzyme that converts most of its starches into sugars as the potato matures. This sweetness continues to increase during storage and when they are cooked.

Preparing Sweet Potatoes

Wash sweet potatoes well. Cook them whole whenever possible as most of the nutrients are next to the skin, and skins are easier to remove after they have been cooked. Pierce skin with fork. Place potatoes in a pan and cook in an oven heated to 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool potatoes slightly before removing skins. Sweet potatoes can be cooked in a microwave oven to save time. Wash and pierce potatoes, then place them on a paper towel.

The cooking time for 2 medium potatoes is on high for 5 to 9 minutes, and 4 potatoes, 10 to 13 minutes. Yellow and dark orange sweet potatoes can be used interchangeably in recipes. Try not to mix the two types in a single dish, because their different textures and cooking times may affect the outcome of the recipe. The yellow variety takes longer to cook than the orange and will be done at the upper range of cooking times.

Storing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes spoil rapidly. To keep them fresh, store them in a dry, cool (55 to 60 degrees) place such a cellar, pantry, or garage. Do not store them in the refrigerator, where they will develop a hard core and an “off” taste. If stored properly, sweet potatoes will keep for a month or longer. At normal room temperature, they should be used within a week of purchase. You may brush off any excess dirt before storing, but do not wash them until you are ready to cook them. Moisture from washing increases their spoilage.

Sweet Mash

Roast 1 whole sweet potato until tender. Coarsely chop, then mash with a large spoonful of coconut cream, chopped fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime juice. Serve sprinkled with extra coriander and lime wedges on the side.

Sweet Potato Fries

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled
    Seasoned salt to taste
  • Ground cinnamon to taste

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Cut sweet potatoes into strips one-quarter-inch thick and one-quarter-inch wide; set aside. Coat large baking sheet with vegetable oil spray. Spread potato strips on baking sheet in one layer. Lightly coat potato strips with spray. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and cinnamon. Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Recipe makes six servings.

Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 85; Carbohydrates: 18g; Protein: 1g; Total fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 0; Sodium: 8mg; Fiber: 2g

Sweet and Spicy Sweet Potato Steak Fries

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub 2 medium organic sweet potatoes and slice into 1/2-inch wedges. Place on a large sheet pan with 2 teaspoons safflower oil and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne. Roast until potatoes are golden and just tender, about 10 minutes. Toss with 1-1/2 teaspoon maple syrup and roast five minutes more. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Makes four servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 83 calories, 1g protein, 15g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 4g sugars, 2.5g fat, 0 saturated fat, 276mg sodium.

Home Made Sweet Potato Puree

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cup diced (1-inch) sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sweat the sweet potatoes until they are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Season with the salt. Puree the sweet potatoes in a blender until completely smooth. Pass through a fine mesh seive and chill over ice.

Vegetable Sweet Potato Pancakes

  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled, grated
  • 1 medium potato, peeled, grated
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, grated
  • 1 small zucchini, washed, ends removed, grated
  • 1-tablespoon fresh chopped basil or
  • 1-teaspoon dried
  • 1 /4 cup egg substitute
  • 3 tablespoons non-bleached flour or whole wheat flour
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except peanut oil. Add more flour as necessary if mixture seems too loose. In large non-stick skillet or griddle, heat peanut oil. Working in batches if necessary and adding more peanut oil if needed spoon one-quarter cup of batter for each pancake. Cook until browned on one side, turn and continue cooking until other side is browned. Remove from skillet. Recipe makes six servings.

Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 109; Carbohydrates: 19g; Protein: 3g; Total fat: 3g; Saturated fat: 0; Cholesterol: 0; Sodium: 24mg; Fiber: 2g

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