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Sweet potatoes are not just for Thanksgiving!

by Drusilla Banks

If you wait until Thanksgiving to eat sweet potatoes, you are missing out on a nutritional powerhouse. Although they are especially good in the fall, you should consider adding them to your menu year round.

Sweet potatoes are edible roots, not tubers like potatoes. In fact, sweet potatoes are not even related to potatoes, they are a member of the morning glory family. They can be prepared in a variety of healthy ways as a main dish, side dish or dessert.

Nutritional powerhouse
The sweet potato is a nutritious as well as a tasty food. One baked sweet potato (3½ ounce serving) provides two times the amount of vitamin A needed for a day, with only 141 calories. They are also a good source of vitamin C, iron, thiamine, folate, potassium, vitamin E and fiber.

There are primarily two varieties of sweet potato sold in the U.S. The pale orange version has a very thin, yellowish skin with a bright yellow/orange flesh. The darker skinned sweet potato has a thicker, orange skin with a sweeter, moist flesh. There is even more new and beneficial research about sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato or yam
When this vegetable is discussed, the question will be asked, "Is it sweet potato or yam?" According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the terms are sometimes used to mean the same vegetable but they are actually tow completely different species.

Sweet potatoes are moist-fleshed with a dark redbrown skin with orange to deep-orange flesh commonly found in our markets. Yams are so different. They are very large and can grow up to 100 pounds. Yams typically grow in Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

Finally, sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A (they contain even more than carrots), while yams contain very little. Remember, vitamin A is very important to aid in vision, a healthy immune system, healthy skin and a healthy heart. Buying, storing and serving

In the Chicagoland market, the darker skinned sweet potato variety is sometimes a little more expensive. Depending upon the variety, of which there are about 400, the skin and flesh of the sweet potato may be almost yellow, orange, or deep orange. Yellow-orange flesh sweet potatoes are most common.

Sweet potatoes are more fragile than white potatoes, so handle with care. They have a thin skin that is easily damaged. Use extra care when selecting. Look for firm sweet potatoes with smooth, bright, uniformly colored skins. Avoid sweet potatoes with worm holes, cuts or any other problems with the skin. Skin problems cause waste and can lead to decay. Cutting away decay may not help because the rest of the potato flesh may have an unpleasant taste. Decay is the worst problem with sweet potatoes. Storage

Sweet potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. Keep them in a dark, dry, cool place away from your heat source, kitchen range or any appliances that give off heat. The ideal storage temperature is 55°F to 60°F. In your home, an unheated basement, pantry, or garage may be best. Sweet potatoes will keep for a month or longer if stored at ideal temperatures.

Although sweet potatoes can be found in your local markets year-round, they are best in season from October through December. The USDA advises when fresh sweet potatoes are not available or convenient, frozen or canned sweet potatoes are a readily available and a delicious alternative!

Prepared by Drusilla Banks, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness; Univ. of Illinois Extension in Bourbonnais, IL.


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