UACES Facebook Savory Sweet Potatoes
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Savory Sweet Potatoes

by Pamela Pruett, EdD, Mississippi County Extension Agent - September 28, 2023

cross section of raw yam next to cross section of sweet potato

Do you get confused over the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? If so, you aren’t the only one. In fact, they are often mislabeled in the grocery stores. The confusion began over 100 years ago when farmers and stores marketed sweet potatoes as “yams” and the name stuck.


How are sweet potatoes different from yams?

The sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family and it produces bulging food-storage roots that are edible. The yam is a Dioscoreaceae family member that produces swollen underground edible stems called tubers. Yams have rough, dark brown skin that is often compared to tree bark, and their flesh is dry and starchy like a regular potato. Sweet potatoes have smooth reddish skin, softer flesh (when cooked), and a sweet flavor.

Another difference is unlike a sweet potato which can be eaten raw, yams always should be peeled and cooked because they contain many naturally occurring plant toxins including dioscorin.


Why should I eat sweet potatoes?

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. The vitamin A in sweet potatoes is known as beta-carotene, which gives it the bright orange color. It helps our bodies control blood pressure and keep cholesterol low. Sweet potatoes are in the red/orange vegetables food group.


How are sweet potatoes grown?

Sweet potato plants are grown in Arkansas in warm soil. They should be planted 90-110 days before a frost, May 1st through May 20th in northern Arkansas. Sweet potatoes should be harvested before the soil temperature drops below 55°F. Their roots are easily bruised by rough handling.


How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be prepared with sweet or savory flavors. They go well with meats, fruits, and other vegetables. Canned, frozen, or fresh, sweet potatoes are available all year. More fragile than white potatoes, use extra care when selecting fresh sweet potatoes. Look for firm sweet potatoes with smooth, bright, uniformly colored skins. Avoid those with worm holes, cuts, or other problems with the skin. Choose firm, dark, dry, and smooth sweet potatoes without wrinkles, bruises, sprouts, or moldy spots. One decayed spot can make the entire sweet potato taste bad, even when cut away.

Sweet potatoes are also sold canned or frozen. Canned are either cut or mashed. Canned sweet potatoes may be packed in heavy syrup or “candied” which adds sugar and fat. Be sure to read the label. Frozen sweet potatoes are usually cut or diced and can be prepared in the microwave or on the stove top.


What's the best way to store a sweet potato?

Store sweet potatoes in a cool (55 - 60°F), dry place. They will keep for a month or longer if stored at 55°F. If stored at room temperature, sweet potatoes should be used within a week.


How to Cook Sweet Potatoes without Adding Sugar

For a healthy option during the holidays or any time, try the following savory recipe instead of a high sugar recipe.


Roasted Sweet Potatoes

diced roasted sweet potatoes fresh from the oven

Serves 4

  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, washed, unpeeled, and cut into ½ inch cubes
  • ground pepper, if desired
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl; toss to coat. Arrange potato mixture in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
  2. Coat potato cubes lightly with cooking spray. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until potatoes are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, stirring once after 12 minutes. Sprinkle with pepper to taste.
Nutrition Facts per 1/2 cup serving
Calories 125
Fat 7g
Protein 2g
Fiber 3g
Sodium 225mg
Carbohydrate 13g