Some surprising facts about sweet potatoes:
- The sweet potato is North Carolina’s official state vegetable!
- The leaves and shoots are edible!
- The Center for Science in the Public Interest named sweet potatoes the #1 nutritional all-star!
Sweet Potatoes are well loved in the U.S., especially in the South. 40% of all sweet potatoes eaten in the U.S. come from North Carolina, grown mostly in the piedmont area. This root crop kept hunger at bay for many generations. During the Revolutionary and Civil Wars it was a staple food. Consumption has diminished in the last century, dropping from 31 pounds per year in 1920 to 4 in 2009 (compare that to the current 25 pounds of iceberg lettuce!).
Sweet potato plants (Ipomoea batatas) are a vine in the morning glory family. They are native to the tropics of the Americas. The earliest known record of them was found in Peru and dates from 750 B.C.
Columbus supposedly brought the sweet potato to North America from the island of Saint Thomas. In 1543 DeSoto’s Spanish explorers found them growing in what became Louisiana. They were also cultivated in the Carolinas before the European colonization.
The Taino people, native to the caribbean, called them batatas. This name morphed into patata in Spanish, patae in French, and potato in English. At that time the sweet potato was the only potato. The white potato was not brought to Europe or it’s colonies until the late 17th century.
Yam or sweet potato?
People often confuse these two vegetables. The true yam (Dioscorea batatas) is not related to the sweet potato. It is a tuber related to lilies and grasses and is a native of Africa and Asia. There are over 150 varieties available worldwide. It has more natural sugar and a higher moisture content than the sweet potato. It can grow much larger – even several feet in length. The skin is rough and scaly.
Sweet potatoes on the other hand are smooth yellow, orange or dark reddish brown. They are not true tubers but roots. There are 2 types:
The thin, light yellow-skinned variety with dry pale yellow flesh and the dark-skinned variety with thicker, dark orange skin and sweeter, moist orange flesh. The dark ones were confusingly named yams by marketers in the 1950s trying to distinguish them from the light skinned variety.
Unless you are in a specialty or ethnic market you are probably buying sweet potatoes, even if they are labelled yams.
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene which is a great source of Vitamin A, an immune booster and an important nutrient for cellular health. They are low in calories, have no fat and are loaded with potassium. They are also a good source of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins C and B6, iron and calcium.
Sweet Potatoes can be baked, boiled, broiled, stuffed, steamed, stir-fried or microwaved; or served raw. They go well with pork, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb and other meats, as well as fish, and can be included in stews, soups and salads as well as in baked goods such as breads, pies, custards and cakes.
On the NC Sweet Potato Commission website you can find a great selection of yummy sounding recipes, including this one:
Breakfast Egg Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Recipe and photo by Roxy’s Kitchen
- 2 large baked sweet potatoes (poke potatoes with fork & bake at 400°F for 1 hour or until you can slide a fork through without resistance)
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 4 bacon slices
- 4 eggs
- Fresh parsley
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Cut of each baked potato (bake them the night before or use any leftover baked potatoes!) in half and scoop out some of the flesh. The more you take out the more cheese and bacon you can add.
- Break an egg into each potato half, sprinkle some salt and pepper and top with mozzarella cheese.
- Add bacon and bake for 20 minutes at 350°F / 180 °C.
Number of servings (yield): 4
Maple Sweet Potato Pecan Burgers
Summary: Adapted from The Tolerant Vegan, Winner of the 2012 No More ‘Mallows Contest
- 3 medium North Carolina sweet potatoes (1-1/2 pounds)
- 1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup chopped kale
- 1/2 cup dry roasted pecans, chopped (see Note)
- 1 Vidalia onion, very coarsely chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 sandwich buns
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Pierce sweet potatoes and microwave together until soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Mash firmly into measuring cups to make 2 cups; transfer to a medium mixing bowl.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring 3/4 cup water and the quinoa to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cover, until the water is nearly absorbed and the quinoa appears transparent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove quinoa from the stove; allow to sit, covered, for 5 minutes.
- In a separate saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Stir in 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and the cayenne pepper. Add mixture to the mashed sweet potatoes along with the kale, cooked quinoa, pecans and 1/2 teaspoon salt; mix well.
- Form the mixture into four patties; place on a well-oiled baking sheet. Bake for 35 minutes, turning once at the halfway point.
- When the burgers have around 15 minutes left to bake, make the onion topping. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add the onion; sprinkle with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Cook and stir for 12 minutes. Reduce heat to low; add remaining 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Cook and stir until onions are slightly brown, about 3 more minutes; remove from heat.
- Transfer burgers to buns and top each with onion mixture.
Number of servings (yield): 4
I just got really hungry looking through these recipes. Good thing I’m growing sweet potatoes!