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What are Sweet Potatoes?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sweet potatoes are tubers, distantly related to potatoes, and are native to South America. They are often confusing to consumers since many are labeled as yams in the US. In fact, true yams, first grown in Africa, are much larger, starchier and far less sweet. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, can be very sweet, but sweetness depends upon the variety.

In the US we commonly see certain sweet potatoes marked as such because they have light tan skin, and a yellow flesh when baked. These are actually the least sweet of the species. They have a mild and creamy flavor, and make an excellent change from regular baking potatoes like russets.

When we look for sweet potatoes for recipes like sweet potato pie, we normally look for dark brown, reddish or even slightly purple exterior skin. The interior of these potatoes is often a deep orange and is very sweet. They need little additional sugar, and make a fantastic treat simply baked and garnished with a little nutmeg and a pat of butter.

Alternately, some enjoy using these darker sweet potatoes, often marketed as garnet or jewel yams, to make sweet potato casserole, mashed sweet potatoes, or to make delectable sweet potato french fries or chips. Japanese vegetarian tempura often batters and fries sweet potatoes, and they can be a delicious contrast to the tempura sauce in which they are dipped.

Sweet potatoes pack a nutritional punch that is not to be missed. As well, the garnet or jewel variety is excellent for dieters who want to fulfill their sweet tooth needs in a healthy fashion. A medium baked sweet potato, when not soaked in butter, has a modest 117 calories. It includes 3.4 grams of dietary fiber, 28 milligrams of vitamin C, 25.7 milligrams of folic acid, and 396 milligrams of potassium. As orange-fleshed root vegetables, these potatoes are also chock-full of vitamin A, containing over 200% of the US recommended daily allowance for the vitamin. Vitamin A in vegetable forms, and not derived from fish oils or liver is quite safe to eat in this amount.

These potatoes are often associated with the autumn, because in the US, this is when they are generally harvested. A plethora of comfort food recipes incorporate the sweet potato. However, most sweet potatoes today are not grown in the US, but rather in China. Though it may be unusual to associate the sweet potato with Asian foods aside from tempura, it is actually a primary ingredient in many Asian dishes.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By somerset — On Dec 21, 2007

The way I like sweet potatoes is by peeling, and cubing them. To about 1lb of sweet potatoes I add about 1 oz of butter, and less than an oz of brown sugar. I put the butter in the baking dish, melt it in the oven, add potatoes and sugar and mix to coat. Cover with aluminum foil and bake on 375F for about 45 min., what a delicious side dish. Of course you can adjust the amount of butter and brown sugar. I like to use as little as possible, so as not to add any unnecessary calories, and yet still maintain sweet taste. Potatoes are done when soft.

Sweet potatoes have lower glycemic index then for example russet potatoes. They are better that way, since they don't elevate blood sugar to the same degree as white potatoes do.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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