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How do you eat sweet potatoes? Like me, you probably grew up eating a sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows on Thanksgiving. When we had sweet potatoes at other times they were drowned in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. While these are delicious options, there are plenty of other — and tastier — ways to enjoy sweet potatoes all year round.

Sweet potatoes versus yams

Before we get too far into a discussion of sweet potatoes, let’s clear up the confusion a bit. Sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing, although the terms are used interchangeably. Sweet potatoes are part of the Morning Glory family. They have reddish-brown, tan, or purple skin and orange, white, or purple flesh. Their flavor is very mild compared to white potatoes.

Yams, however, are the tubers of a tropical vine in the genus Dioscorea. They have dark skin that looks like tree bark and very starchy flesh.

To make matters worse, sweet potatoes are often labeled “yams” in grocery stores and on canned versions. The term “yam” in reference to sweet potatoes comes from the culture of the South. Growers in the southern United States have adopted the African word for yam as a nickname for their sweet potatoes. As a result, this term – a nickname of sorts – has become synonymous with the orange sweet potato we love.

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Sweet and savory dishes

We love sweet potato casserole, but sweet potatoes can be used in savory dishes too. They can even be used in baking. Try these five tips for adding sweet potatoes to your meal plans.

  • Add complimentary herbs and spices to your sweet potato dishes. Try Cajun and Creole seasonings, chili and chipotle powder, cinnamon, cloves, dill, garlic, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, or white pepper.
  • Baked Sweet Potato Fries are a healthy alternative to oil fried fries. Cut the sweet potatoes into wedges, drizzle with olive oil and your favorite spices and bake at 400 F for about 45 minutes. Dip them in a chipotle ranch as an extra treat.
  • Add a little sweetness to your potato salad by replacing white potatoes with sweet potatoes or simply adding sweet potatoes.
  • Mashed cooked sweet potatoes are an ideal alternative to chickpeas in hummus, creating a colorful dip.
  • Use shredded sweet potatoes in place of white potatoes in your breakfast hash or as hash browns. Use the same in mashed potatoes or mashed root vegetable dishes.

Purchase and storage

Red garnet is my favorite sweet potato variety due to its dark reddish skin and dark orange flesh. It and the Jewel Sweet Potato contain more of the enzyme amylase, which breaks down potato starch into sugar. This makes the potato sweeter than its tan and purple skinned counterparts. These varieties also have a creamier texture. Either should be easy to find in supermarkets as they are the most common varieties available in the United States.

When buying fresh sweet potatoes, choose a small to medium size. Check the skin for bruises, cuts and cracks before purchasing.

Store sweet potatoes between 50 F and 60 F in a place away from moisture, direct heat, and light. This will keep your potatoes fresh for about a month. A warm or bright place will trick your potatoes into thinking they’re outside and starting to sprout. Avoid storing fresh sweet potatoes in your refrigerator. The colder temperature will cause the potato to harden in the middle.

Do not wash your potatoes before storing them as this will cause them to rot faster. Leave them as they are and wash them immediately before use. Also keep your sweet potatoes away from onions. The moisture from the onions will make your potatoes sprout faster.

Sweet potatoes should be eaten all year round. They can be prepared in a simple way to add a little sweetness to your meals.

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