The sweet potato is a tuberous root vegetable belonging to the same family of plants as the morning glory. They are native to Central America and considered a staple in many countries. Sweet potatoes have been cultivated in the Southern states since the 16th century--they are a particularly popular food crop in the American South, and you'll find them in markets all over the United States.
Are Sweet Potatoes Yams?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, sweet potatoes and yams are not the same--actually, they are from different plant species. To add to the confusion, in the South sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams, and canned sweet potatoes are labeled yams. True yams, however, are seldom grown in the U.S., and although similar in appearance to sweet potatoes, they do not have as high a nutritional content.
There are several varieties of sweet potatoes but only two are widely grown commercially--the pale sweet potato and the darker skinned (that Americans often call yam). The pale version, which has light yellow flesh, tastes more like a white potato, and has a similar crumbly consistency to the baking potato, whereas the darker skinned sweet potato has a vibrant orange, softer flesh that is sweet in taste.
Buying and Storing Guides
When buying sweet potatoes, choose firm ones with no cracks or bruises that are small to medium in size. Keep sweet potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, and handle them with care. They should keep for about two weeks. If the temperature is too warm -- above 60 F -- they'll sprout sooner or become woody. Once cooked, sweet potatoes can be stored for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
Like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are always eaten cooked. Although they have a sweet flavor, they can be used in a wide variety of dishes, both savory and sweet. Their flavor pairs well with cinnamon, honey, lime, ginger, coconut and nutmeg, and of course marshmallows! They are a healthier alternative to the white potato and can be served baked, mashed, fried (sweet fries are becoming a staple on restaurant menus) and roasted. You can also enjoy them in desserts, such as the Southern favorite sweet potato pie, baked into breads and muffins, mixed in puddings and custards, the base for a casserole, and as the main ingredient in stews or croquettes.
Nutritionally, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A and a good source of potassium and vitamin C, B6, riboflavin, copper, pantothenic acid and folic acid.